Several deer, including a few fawns, gathered along the road hugging Lake Humphreys. I steadied my pace and even averted my eyes a bit as I approached. No sudden movements. The deer watched me attentively; several lay on the ground, their front paws lazily folded. I had heard tales about the friendly Humphreys deer, but I did not wish to spook them, so I stopped about 20 feet away. These must be the smartest, happiest deer in all of Oklahoma, nestled in a calm and carefree sanctuary in the middle of deer season! I wondered what their secret was, but then I heard the leaves rustle behind me.
Several large turkeys had quietly gathered behind me. A large tom confidently locked eyes with me while several hens milled about. I glanced back-and-forth between the turkey and the deer, unsure why I was suddenly paranoid. Wild animals can grow comfortable with people, but this was different, especially this close to Thanksgiving and during hunting season. They were watching me, almost daring me. I doubted for a second, but the big tom then walked toward me.
This is the point when Okie fairy tales include the words, “Now I ain’t kiddin’ you . . .” (or a saltier version). But really, I ain’t kiddin’ you! At first the hens ignored me, but when that big tom puffed up, all those hens snapped to attention, also locking eyes with me. No herky-jerky turkey stuff, they moved like a unit, slowly advancing toward me, bobbing in unison. Honestly, I panicked just a little, expecting an ambush. I whipped around, half-expecting to see steadily advancing deer, but no, they calmly lay there, watching the turkey toy with me. Some chewed their cud, but all looked amused. That’s when I realized it. The animals at Lake Humphreys are not tame, they are coordinated. I was being herded by a bunch of Thanksgiving dinners past the fattest venison I had ever seen. Rifle season just started, and deer across Oklahoma are as jumpy as jackrabbits, but not the deer at Lake Humphreys. They were not threatened by hunting season because they were doing the hunting.
I had no option but to keep ahead of the flock. I passed several other deer during my walk, and as long as I kept moving, the turkeys pretended to act like normal turkeys. If I paused too long, however, they crouched together in stalking mode. I soon realized that they meant me no harm, for I am obviously no hunter, but they kept their eyes on me, subtly reinforcing the implied threat of certain destruction if I attempted to harm any of them.
I have heard about the tame deer at Lake Humphreys from several Duncanites. They will reportedly eat right from your hand, but have the good people of Stephens County ever noticed the turkeys? I bet they are never far off, which is why I think the deer and turkey at Lake Humphreys act so confidently. They are working together. Of course, the residents feel like they guard and protect them, but after my walk, I wonder who is protecting whom. These are not ordinary animals. They are smart. Stealthy. They cleverly mask their militant predispositions behind masks of docility, and during deer season and Thanksgiving, they are on high alert for suspected hunters. Turkey and deer working together, ready to defend their little paradise. I am just thankful I was not dressed in camo or orange. You may have been looking for another superintendent.
As I drove away, I couldn’t help to feel a little relieved. Legends of the carnivorous deer of Stephens County have undoubtedly been exaggerated, but I am pretty sure those turkeys were packing more than just peckers. Or, this could just be another Okie fairy tale to share with non-Okies visiting during Thanksgiving. (Even better, just take them snipe hunting!) Our local lakes are true treasures, so visit them if you can during the holidays, but don’t forget you are being watched, and may everyone have a blessed Thanksgiving.