Until this weekend, I hadn't photographed a deer carcass since the summer months. Between then and now, white-tailed deer have undergone their seasonal transformation: a thick, gray winter coat has replaced the soft, red-brown fur of the summer; the necks of bucks have swelled with the rut, and fawns have long-since lost their spots. Michigan's winter deer have a fluffier, bulkier appearance – a stark change from their slender, angular summer form.
The section of US 41 that runs south of Marquette toward Escanaba is a deer death trap: the two-lane highway cuts through farmland, spruce and cedar swamps, and plenty of brushy, forested area. It's a perfect habitat for deer, and many are hit by cars on this stretch of road. On a frosty, misty Sunday morning, Steph and I decided to take a drive down US 41, just to see what we could find.
Less than a mile into our trip, Steph spotted a deer carcass resting a little ways away from the road. It was a doe, and she had been dead for a week or two. Her initial spot of death was marked by a large pile of fur, but something – most likely a coyote – had smartly pulled her body a safer distance from the highway. The scavenging habits of the coyotes had twisted and compacted the doe; her legs were left in a bizarre, unnatural jumble of suspended motion.
Not yet reached by the light of the rising sun, the doe's fur was covered in frost. The coyotes and crows that had scavenged her body had cleared out her insides and pecked out her eyes, but despite the carnage, the doe looked to be at peace, laying on a bed of dry bracken fern and whisker-thin grass.
The shade receded quickly, yielding to the sun as it rose higher into the sky. In the few minutes that I spent photographing the doe, I watched as the frost melted into drops of water.
When we passed by again, on our way back home, crows were arriving for their morning meal.