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That deer you want to pet thinks you're cock-blocking him

Earlier this week, a 63-year-old woman was gored by a mule deer she tried to pet -- a story that's not surprising to Colorado Division of Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill. After all, male deer, like elk, are rutting right now, meaning they're looking for love in all the right places. And while Churchill is reluctant to guess what this particular buck was thinking, she notes that "they're territorial at the time of the rut. They're trying to round up a female to mate with and they don't want you interfering with that process. They want to go about their business."

And a dirty, dirty business it is.

Deer are widely assumed to be benign, and not only by folks who think of Bambi as a documentary. "A lot of people who move here see these animals and assume they're tame," Churchill says. "They're very common in a lot of neighborhoods, and when you see a sweet little deer in your yard eating your flowers and letting you take its picture, you start thinking of them as a benign element. But their behavior can be unpredictable."

Mood changes can take place during feeding as well as fondling -- and there are other drawbacks to signing up as a caretaker. "Deers congregating in areas where big herds otherwise wouldn't congregate can lead to disease," Churchill notes. "And when deer become reliant on you, they're not wild life at that point. You're domesticating them, and even though it's done out of the goodness of people's hearts, it will have a negative impact on their ability to take care of themselves. And you've got to remember that mountain lions eat deer. When you're inviting deer into your neighborhood, you're inviting mountain lions as well."

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Indeed, the only animal feeding the DOV sanctions involves birds during the wintertime, "when the bears are hibernating," Churchill goes on. "Unfortunately, bird feeders are the number one thing that gets bears acclimated to humans providing food. And that can lead to them breaking into people's homes, like what happened in Aspen not too long ago."

Nonetheless, tourists and natives alike can't resist the urge to record their animal encounters for posterity -- and that can cause problems as well. "Coloradans see wild life all the time, but it's still exciting," Churchill concedes. "I think it's something missing in our culture. But with the whole YouTube phenomenon, you've got people chasing enormous elk with cell phones -- and that's not going to get you in National Geographic."

But it could land you in the hospital -- especially when both meanings of the word "horny" come into play.

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