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NATURE: Touching The Wild

Airs Wed., April 16, 2014 at 8 p.m. & Sun., April 20 at 4 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Joe Hutto wearing Stetson and stroking mule deer neck. Deer with head turned looking away from Joe. Canyon rock in background. Riverton area, Wyoming

For writer, artist and naturalist Joe Hutto (“My Life as a Turkey”), there is no such thing as conducting a typical research project. Whether having wild turkey chicks imprint on him or embedding with a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep for months at a time, Hutto seeks to observe behavior without preconceptions and from the animal’s perspective. In the case of his latest study, it meant dedicating seven years of his life to being accepted by a wild mule deer family and living among them. When asked why, Hutto’s response was: “How could you not?”

Couresy of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Joe Hutto has authored several titles including his latest, "Touching the Wild, Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch."

Hutto presents and narrates his story of bonding with a wild herd of mule deer and their impact on him when "Touching The Wild" airs Wednesday, April 16, 2014 on PBS. Hutto has authored several titles including his latest, "Touching the Wild, Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch" (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.), a companion book to be released to coincide with the NATURE premiere. After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.

"Touching The Wild" takes place in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming near Hutto’s ranch. This area serves as the winter range for a large herd of mule deer. His involvement with them began with a chance encounter with a young buck that took an interest in him and somehow understood he was not a threat: “He returned an upward nod of the head, and I looked away and I nodded my head, and he returned the gesture again. That deer was willing to see me as an individual, and he very clearly saw that I granted him his individuality. I was not seeing something, I was seeing someone.”

As Hutto explains in "Touching The Wild," he had to be out with the herd every day for two years to gain the first signs of trust from them, but once he won full acceptance from their leader, a doe he called Raggedy Anne, he could move among the individuals in the herd and no one paid attention. He had become part of the family. But if they spotted another human being, their deep-seated instincts would kick in and they would bolt, as mule deer have been a legally hunted game animal for generations.

There are many poignant segments in this NATURE documentary, including the moment when Rag Tag, Raggedy Anne’s daughter, becomes the first deer to groom him, something that only occurs within a deer family. She later introduces him to her newborn twins, one of whom he later cares for after Rag Tag’s death. Hutto reflects on how Raggedy Anne’s family never left her side as she lay dying, and how Boar, a big buck, reacted when he discovered the carcass of his twin brother, the victim of a wolf or mountain lion.

Hutto himself was affected by these deaths, and concludes that grief and sorrow are experiences all living things have in common. His strong personal emotions over the fate of his friends among the herd lead him to consider whether he should bring his field study to a close.

NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET for PBS. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. "Touching The Wild" is a production of Passion Pictures and THIRTEEN Productions LLC in association with WNET.

Visit shoppbs.org to purchase Joe's books, DVDs and Blu-rays.

Joe Hutto (Biologist) is on Facebook. NATURE is on Facebook, and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter. Past episodes of NATURE are available for online viewing.

Video

Touching The Wild: First Encounter With A Young Buck

Above: For writer, artist and naturalist Joe Hutto (“My Life as a Turkey”), there is no such thing as conducting a typical research project. After a chance encounter with a young mule deer, Hutto would embark on a journey of bonding that would consume over seven years of his life.

Video

Touching The Wild: True Acceptance From The Herd

Above: Over two years of patience on Joe Hutto's part resulted in first displays of trust by a herd of wild mule deer. But once Hutto won full acceptance from the herd's leader, a doe he called Raggedy Anne, he could move among the individuals in the herd and no one paid attention. He had become part of the family.

Video

Touching The Wild: Mule Deer Family Rituals

Above: A profound moment of bonding occurs for Joe Hutto when mule deer Rag Tag, the doe herd leader's daughter, begins to groom him, something that only occurs within a deer family. During his seven year journey of bonding with a wild mule deer herd, Joe Hutto came to appreciate the animals' profound intelligence, particularly during displays of curiosity.

Video

Touching The Wild: A Time of Reunion

Above: While survival during winter is never a guarantee for wild mule deer, those who endure the harsh months always return to their range. Joe Hutto is included in a profound moment of reunion among a mule deer herd, in particular the introduction of a young deer Molly and her twin to the their extended family.

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