Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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

If you are a Baby Boomer like me, you were probably told as a child that animals other than humans had no self-awareness and did not think. The prevalent scientific holding of the 1950s and 1960s was that animals instinctively knew how to act. They were merely on the earth to serve human needs. Primatologist Jane Goodall showed us that this is not true, and many other scientists have followed her path, including naturalist Joe Hutto. For anyone who still doubts that animals think and feel, Hutto's new book Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch is going to be a challenge.

Hutto is a very interesting man who invests himself in multi-year studies of animal species. Before spending seven years with the mule deer of Wyoming, he spent years in daily observation of wood ducks, wild turkeys, and bighorn sheep. Two of his books, including Touching the Wild, are associated with episodes of PBS Nature. He also tells us in his book that he has been a collector of venomous snakes and a life long hunter.

Touching the Wild is a physically beautiful book with easy to read type and filled with color photographs of mule deer in dramatic Wyoming landscapes (as well as in Hutto's yard). It is divided into three parts, the first of which is a very personal account of the mule deer he has known. The second part tells about mule deer life and behavior, and the third explains why the survival of the mule deer in our Western States is in jeopardy.

In the third section, as a hunter, Hutto is very critical of many of the other hunters. He reminds me of Native Americans who ask the spirit of an animal for forgiveness when killing. Hutto believes hunters should be fully aware of who they shoot, but he instead sees modern hunters with high powered rifles and high tech devices shooting individual of his study from great distances, never even having to stalk their prey. He decries hunting in this form of casual money sport. He is particularly upset at the state of Wyoming for allowing the bow hunting of does and fawns when mule deer populations are crashing.

I hope Hutto's excellent book is purchased by more libraries than his previous titles Illumination in the Flatwoods and The Light in High Places. He tells a touching and often sad story that should resonate with readers in love with nature.

Hutto, Joe. Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014. 306p. ISBN 9781626362130.

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