Life is hard. But look around you. Success is everywhere! The house finches at my bird feeder, the ladybugs covering all my sunny windows, the folks in my favorite coffee shop. That’s right people are no exception. The current COVID pandemic illustrates how fragile we are. 

That’s why successful persistence of any species is impressive. And because life is hard, we often marvel at individual longevity. We have all seen the news stories of those celebrating admission into the centenarian club. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that 316,600 centenarians were living worldwide. That was 0.00446% of the total human population. For the trivia folks, the oldest human was Jeanne Louise Calment who lived to be 122 years and 164 days. 

I haven’t done the math but I’m pretty sure I have a better chance of winning Powerball than living to be 100+ years old.

Remember life is hard. We must do things required for survival everyday. Eat, drink, thermoregulate, sleep – all required…yet done without much thought. Our nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems hum happily along until one day they don’t. That’s usually when we start paying attention to them.

The same can be said of those house finches and lady bugs. And, of course, deer. Deer have the same challenges as every other living creature. And we are no less amazed when we get reports of a teenage deer than we are hearing about Hester Ford (oldest living person in the U.S. at 115 years!).

I seem to the be the bard for these special individuals paying homage to their triumph over beating the odds of life. I don’t mind. In fact, I love it. My first tribute was to a 13.5 year old doe who was tagged as a fawn and caught on camera again in 2014. Then just a few months later another report of a doe that was a minimum of 13.5 years old. That was 6 years ago. No word on their whereabouts since however. 

This season I have been given another grand dame of which to sing. We met her in 2006 in Centre County as an adult. In December, we received word that she was harvested on the property on which she was captured 14 years earlier. Her minimum age was 16.5 years old and she was still wearing the collar we gave her over a decade ago. 

This phenomenal deer made it through 16 hunting seasons and likely gave birth to at least 29 fawns. The chance of that happening for a Pennsylvania doe – 0.6%. While not quite as long of a shot as me outliving Hester’s record, it’s still quite slim for a deer.

I would bet there are Hesters and Jeannes of the deer world living in Pennsylvania. After all we do have the record for oldest aged elk at 32 years. Even though life is hard, catching some of these does in hunting season is a long shot.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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