Simply Pay Attention


“Get down, get your nose on the ground merely following your common senses, get out of your own way, and simply pay attention.”

-Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

Immortal Years of Youth


“All snake handlers get bitten—all of them—and I almost got what was coming to me on several occasions. After somehow surviving the immortal years of my late teens and early twenties, I realized that another line of work would be advisable and timely, so upon graduation I started working with somewhat less deadly species of animals.”

-Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

Decision Making and Predators


Interestingly, the innate fear that is hardwired into almost all predators regarding a human presence is disturbingly absent when I am in the company of deer. This is a privileged perspective when the goshawk or the bald eagle perches thirty meters away, but disconcerting when the mountain lion appears. There is an old saying in this part of the West: “You don’t have to be faster than the bear—you just have to be faster than the other guy.” Invariably, after the deer have scattered, I am left standing face to face with the source of their flight.”

After more than thirty years of perpetual exposure to these possibilities, it is now my somewhat well-informed policy to never allow any formidable predator the exclusive right to make all the important decisions.

-Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

Honest Ethology


Could I even begin to speculate on the possible breadth of their experience without engaging the inevitable human predisposition to deny them the significance of their complex lives, and the existence of their clearly exquisite emotions? Again, it became abundantly obvious that, as humans, we have no privileged access to reality.”

Ethology, in its pure and most honest form, is primarily an exercise in revealing the magnitude of how little we know about living things—the futile attempt to apply an empirical methodology to all that is abstract, subjective, qualitative, and undeniably mystical.

-Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

Serving The Land


“One does not own a ranch—one merely chooses to serve a ranch.”

An old working ranch is the perfect antidote to the futile human expectation of actual achievement.

The land is possessed of some quality that inspires us all to confuse our dreams with the actual physical possibilities that our lives can achieve.

Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

Befriending Rats

One of the things that struck me while reading this book was the freedom that comes from being a wildlife biologist – or any outdoors related scientist (particularly a well published and widely respected one, like Mr. Hutto).

In my experience, making friends with rats, squirrels, chipmunks, deer and other ‘vermin’ are something that most farmers and ranchers simply don’t do. If they were to participate in the kinds of activities Mr. Hutto describes, they wouldn’t admit to it publicly (or even privately).

The few wildlife ‘friends’ I’ve seen or heard discussed invariably turned into easy meals for the humans handing out the treats. After all, what better way to fatten up and trap a squirrel than to feed it off the back porch and then shoot the poor thing when it stops by for a visit?

This sounds brutal and, in a way, it is. But farming and ranching tends to be brutal work. At one point Mr. Hutto mentions his relief at being able to maintain the ranch without requiring an income from the effort. In other words, he is not ranching (or farming), he’s living on a ‘hobby farm.’ This is an important distinction because the competition with the animals, both predator and prey, is primarily academic. For people who survive off of a farm (or ranch), competition with these furry friends is primarily economic – and can easily become brutally Darwinian in nature. Some would say this is a matter of good (or bad) farming/ranching practices, others would say it’s God or weather or fate. Regardless, the perspective toward wildlife creeping onto the farm or ranch tends to be the same: it’s us or them.

That said, the book includes descriptions of locals stopping by the ranch and meeting the deer herd Mr. Hutto manages to ingratiate himself with and I do not doubt the reactions he describes are both real and sincere. Being able to touch and interact with a wild animal, without all of the pressures of ranching/farming concerns is more than the wonder of interaction with wildlife, it’s freedom from work and the pressures of survival.

This is the subject that came to mind when I read the following quote because I could not help but see these words being spoken to a collection of ranchers and farmers standing around the local diner (or wherever they gather for casual socialization). In my mind’s eye I saw the listening crowd shaking their collective heads and chuckling while muttering ‘scientists’ under their breath.


“Leslye has also cultivated a relationship with the remarkable rodent known as the pack rat, which often lives in accommodating rock shelters, but also loves old barns or derelict buildings. Large and beautiful rats with un-rat-like bushy tails, they are extremely intelligent and display a complex social life. Leslye can call a name, and a pack rat will emerge from a hole in a log wall of the barn, walk out onto Leslye’s lap, and casually take a horse cookie.”

-Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto

The Worst Perspective


“A position of superiority always provides the worst possible perspective and is anathema to any clean and honest observation—whether scientific or not.”

Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch by Joe Hutto