When a Pronghorn is Not a Deer

“There’s a dead deer in the arroyo,” Dylan said. My son and I were out on public lands, walking to see a natural stone arch near my house in northwest New Mexico.

“That’s not a deer—it’s a pronghorn,” I declared as we stared at the tan animal with white markings. Its head and most of its body were visible as it lay in a bunch of dried brush at the bottom of a ten-foot drop below us. How could Dylan have mistaken a pronghorn antelope for a deer? He needed to get out of the city more often. Still, a pronghorn in this region would be rare. Although they exist in New Mexico, it was many miles to areas where they’d be at home. I’d never seen nor heard of them in this region.

Pronghorn Antelope

Even though it seemed a bit weird, I started concocting a scenario that would explain the sad sight. It was obviously a youngster, given its smaller size. Somehow it got separated from its kind miles away. Maybe it was a very young male, striking off on its own. But after wandering, it realized it was way out of its homeland and started searching frantically for its kin. It ran, everywhere. A keen-eyed mountain lion smelled the animal’s confusion and gave chase. Disoriented and desperate to outrun the predator, it leaped and bounded and ran until reaching its phenomenal speed of 55 mph, landing right into the unexpected arroyo, a drop that instantly killed the animal.

A perfect explanation that accounted for the odd sight of a pronghorn antelope, dead below our feet. I could feel tatters of fear hanging around the body. I grieved for the terror and loneliness it felt the last minutes of its life.

Mule Deer

My son and I viewed the animal, then looked at the stone arch and returned home, carrying the tale of the pronghorn to others. But not too many others, since it still seemed a little odd. And I didn’t want to embarrass my grown son by telling people he had thought it was a deer when obviously it wasn’t. And that was the best part of the story. I told one person about our discovery. He suggested I report it to the local Game and Fish officer. When I called the officer, he wanted to see it. I described the location.

A couple days later the officer called me back.

“I checked out the carcass,” he said. When he said “carcass” rather than “pronghorn” or “antelope,” I knew there was more.

Domestic Goat

“Turns out it was a domestic goat,” he said. I think he snickered. Yeah, I’m sure he snickered. “A farmer must have dumped it there after it died.” That made sense, since the dirt road went right alongside the arroyo. “You got the color right, but not the animal.” Then I remembered the beard. Yes, there was a scruffy beard the length of my hand attached under the muzzle of that animal. Pronghorn antelopes don’t have beards.

“Oh my. I guess there was a beard on him.” I felt mortified. The officer and I laughed for a few seconds. I wanted to end our conversation fast. I didn’t want him to remember my name or who I was or that I had ever called him. He’d be laughing and telling that story to his buddies forever.

Just as I’m telling it now. Why do I reveal such an embarrassing story? Because now, fifteen years later, it seems funny. Recently my son Cyrus tried to embarrass me by bringing it up, but I got the better of him, relating all the details with lots of laughs.

When he was driving me and his brother Dylan through a big forest soon after, Dylan said, “There’s a creature over there next to the trees.” He didn’t say “coyote,” which it clearly was. He was remembering the time he called a pronghorn/goat a “deer” and he didn’t want to make that kind of mistake again.

“It’s a deer,” I said.

“No, it’s a moose,” said Cyrus. “Obviously.”

We all laughed.

Moose. Obviously.

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