I had a revelation when I read this article that was posted on the PCT-L the other day.
While hiking the PCT, Indie and I had found a campsite one evening just outside the town of Belden, CA. It was a nice campsite, fire pit, flat spots, metal grill for cooking. However, it had a bit of a creepy feel to it. It's impossible to know why some parts of the trail feel more uncomfortable than others. Perhaps it's personal preference. I always feel at peace camped high on a ridge line above everything else, with clear views. This particular site was forested, dark, and by the looks of it, often used.
While we were getting ready to sleep, we heard a loud "crack." Indie and I both shined our headlamps into the area where we heard the noise, and immediately saw glowing eyes staring back at us. (The moment when one sees the eyes is always an exciting one, as the brain processes what kind of animal is at hand.) In this case, we both realized it was just a deer. This was no ordinary deer however. It was extremely socially awkward or something. It seemed to just hang around the campsite, often bolting a hundred feet or so back into the forest, only to return a minute later. It seemed to be frightened by just the most subtle of movements, often scaring me in the process. "What is he so nervous about?" I wondered.
To make matters worse, where I chose to camp, there was a huge pile of dead sticks and branches just a few feet away. As the deer became a little more comfortable, he would walk right into the middle of the pile of branches. Without fail, the deer would accidentally step on a branch that would "crack," get scared, then make a mad dash out of the sticks causing more branches to "crack," run faster and scare the bejesus out of me at the same time.
Amazingly, this sequence of events happened over and over again. I couldn't believe it. Before I fell asleep, I would hear the deer quietly rustle the leaves as he approached the stick pile. I would hear the branches moving around, and then "crack!" One of the branches would pop, the deer would jump in astonishment, become entangled in the branches, more "cracks and "pops" and then the frightened animal would run full speed back into the forest.
Indie seemed to get a chuckle out of it when I would curse in an exhausted stupor. Anyhow, I eventually fell asleep, but the story does not end. All through the night, I heard the deer approach in my dreams, and time and time again, he would become entangled in the sticks and I would wake up in a state of freight as the branches popped and the deer would run back into the forest. "Why does he keep getting entangled in this stick pile?!!" I wondered over and over. Indie and I concluded he must have been mentally ill or something. As the night progressed, I would hear the deer stealthily approach, and I would kick my feet in my sleeping bag and the deer would dart back into the forest. I'd say this repeated over and over about a dozen times.
The next day, Indie and I awoke and the deer was nowhere to be seen. It was an exhausting day of hiking due to the fact that my sleep was so disrupted. It became a story Indie and I would return to and laugh about from time to time in the following months while hiking the trail.
In conclusion, after reading the above mentioned article yesterday, my best hypothesis for why the deer kept walking into the pile of sticks was because he wanted a salt lick. Perhaps this spot was used by other hikers as a latrine? Makes more sense than a mentally ill deer...
Indie's version of the night and next day can be found here.