Heading home on a favorite road. It's a night ride. The pace is brisk, jamming uphill around curves, relying on the lights of oncoming traffic to make sure the motorcycle is well within its lane.
Pulehu Road, once the most direct way from Central Maui to Kula, is a back road. It runs through sugar cane fields that give way to kiawe-studded pastures, abandoned pineapple fields and the Kula Ag park. There's no cross traffic.
The darkness prevents sightseeing. Still . . . Pay attention. Focus. Keep eyes on the far edge of the motorcycle's cone of light. Baby Dancer is humming, nearly inaudible. Gear down. Get ready to power out of the curve. Crest the blind hill.
Yikes! Lean on the brakes. Stomp down a gear. The road is filled from side to side by animals, spotted critters each weighing around 160 pounds. Hitting one at full tilt would not be pleasant. The deer look into the headlight, seemingly unconcerned. The bike slows to a crawl. No point in trying to ride around them. You never know which way they'll run.
A buck with a full rack of horns leads the others to the side of the road. They leap gracefully over a four-strand barbed wire fence and disappear. All but one. It heads the other way. Take a deep breath and motor on, watching in case tail-end Charlie decides to reverse course.
It's not an unusual event out in the country. The descendants of four axis deer brought from Molokai to Maui in 1959 are all over the island, an estimated 8,000 of them in East Maui. There are more in West Maui. Some have been spotted in town in the undeveloped part of Keopuolani Park.
During the depths of the drought, South Maui golf course managers and maintenance workers found the deer, called chital in their native India, browsing on carefully tended greens and creating divots with their hooves. Farmers have had whole fields decimated in a night or two. Deer love new growth and can chomp it down to the dirt.
Up at the top of Olinda Road, a homeowner reported a herd of deer numbering 30 or more. The biggest damage they did to the hilly, wet property was with their hooves. They created trenches which rain turned into gullies.
Killing them would be one way to control the deer that even reach up into trees to eat fruit and new-growth leaves. Hard to do, though Maui has more than its share of competent hunters. It's illegal to fire rifles around houses. Hunting them commercially is stalled by government regulations. There has to be an inspector on hand before the animals are killed and then again when they are slaughtered.
Slaughtered is a tough word to swallow for some city folk who grew up with Walt Disney. "Oh, no! You can't kill and eat Bambi." They do look like the big-eyed fawn that starred in two novels written by Felix Salten and two movies created by Walt.
There were letters to the editor from tender-hearted writers suggesting fences as a solution. Good idea, except axis deer can get over a 6-foot fence. No sweat. It takes at least an 8-footer to keep them out. Down the road, a nursery specializing in native plants spent $20,000 to erect an 8-foot, chain-link fence around the 2-acre property. Many Kula property owners with flowers and fruit trees have erected similar barriers, usually after finding trees practically denuded by night-time snackers.
Venison does make good eating. The meat is extraordinarily lean and usually tender. Personal experience. Sometime ago, a neighbor showed up with a 2-foot-long piece of back strap. He'd harvested the meat in a remote pasture, using a crossbow. After barbecuing some of it and frying some of it to go with scrambled eggs, he decided to get fancy. Dig out the recipe for beef stroganoff. Do a straight substitution of deer for cow. Broke da mouth!
Axis deer first came to the islands in the 1860s as a gift to King Kamehameha V, first on Molokai where they became a subsistence source of protein, later on Lanai and some 100 years later they arrived on Maui. Hunters would hate to see them eliminated. Others would cheer.
On another night, a quarter mile above the house, came around a curve just in time to see six deer vault out of a horse paddock and head straight for a newly planted cabbage field. A telephone call later, the farmer was there to chase out the animals.
That won't be the last time.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.