A young whitetail would have likely died if an Athens, Georgia resident hadn’t intervened. According to a recent post from the National Deer Association, a man named Mike Rupert was renovating his house when he came across something strange.
“I’d built an 8’ fence by my backyard for the dog, and there’s a woodpile against the fence,” he says. “I could see a fawn—which I’d seen in the yard before—laying up against the woodpile, with something black against its chest. When I looked closer I could see it was a rat snake, about 6’ long, and it had wrapped itself around the fawn’s chest. This was a big snake, and thick, and when I first walked up to the fawn I was sure it was dead. Then I saw its chest move as it tried to take a breath and I thought I better do something.”
Rupert grabbed a stick and, with some effort, managed to slide it between the constricting snake and the fawn’s body. “That was really the first time I think the snake even knew I was there,” he recalls. “As I got that stick underneath him I realized the snake was not only wrapped around the fawn’s chest, but also the top of its neck. When I got the stick in there the snake relaxed some and the fawn struggled to its feet. It was really wobbly at first, and it was then I realized the snake was also wrapped around the fawn’s legs. Finally the fawn—which was maybe two feet tall—got its feet free and then it really bounded off. It was anxious to get out of there.”
Situations involving snakes native to North America and deer are extremely rare. While the NDA post noted that “there may be rare examples of large rattlesnakes swallowing especially small fawns,” there is ample evidence that invasive snakes such as the Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades, can impact whitetail populations. In 2015, researchers found an 11-foot, 31-½ pound python that had ingested an entire 33-pound whitetail doe. Burmese pythons, which have been released into the Everglades by their negligent owners for years, have established breeding populations and are now recognized as whitetail predators.
Fortunately, Rupert’s black rat snake encounter can be viewed as a lightning strike. “I think the fawn was just doing what fawns do; lying still when they encounter danger,” he says. “And the snake was just doing what snakes do; constricting around a warm body that might be prey. It was almost like the snake had to think ‘Well I’ll kill this thing now and figure out how to eat it later.’ I don’t think there’s going to be a fawn-killing snake problem around here.”
As proof, Rupert noted that he returned to the scene the next day and found what he assumed was the same fawn bedded in the same spot. “It was actually there for a few hours every day for the next four days, so I guess it felt safe,” he says.