Deer Lives To Be 20 Years Old!

Free-ranging Jackson County deer found itself most comfortable around a pack of family dogs.

Ainsley Cash Conner | April 4, 2019

Having a close relationship with a wild animal is not an experience many people get to have. Gene Gilbert, of Jefferson, is one such individual who watched a whitetail doe mature through her entire life, which spanned nearly 20 years.

The deer was born in mid June 1999, but a few short days after she was born, her mother was hit by a car in Gray by a family from Kentucky who were driving home from vacation. They noticed the fawn would not leave her deceased mother, so the family decided to take this deer with them.

Before we go on with the story, we must mention that DNR does not permit just anyone to handle wildlife. An online statement from DNR says, “Persons not licensed and trained in wildlife rehabilitation should not attempt to care for wildlife. In fact, Georgia law prohibits the possession of most wildlife without a permit. If you encounter a seriously injured animal or an animal that clearly has been orphaned, please contact a local, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. A list of licensed rehabilitators is available at (select “Special Permits” from the right hand side of the home page and scroll down to Wildlife Rehabilitation).”

Twenty years ago the Kentucky family made the decision to head up the road with the fawn in their car. They ended up at a veterinarian’s office in Jefferson. Instead of euthanizing the fawn, the vet decided to contact Gene because he and his family were known for taking in many distressed and stray pets on their family farm. However, Gene had never dealt with a wild animal before. As it turned out, Gene had just retired and figured taking in a fawn would be something new to try.

“I thought this would be a fun adventure and a learning experience,” said Gene.

The fawn, which was never caged, quickly gained its strength, and Gene figured the deer would eventually just ease off and join other deer in the area. However, the fawn formed a strong bond with Gene’s four dogs. Once Gene realized that she was just going to become a local at his house, he named her Prissy.

“Prissy really formed a bond with Sandi, my Labrador retriever. Prissy viewed Sandi as her mother and never wanted to leave her side,” said Gene.

Prissy was a free-range deer and had never been restrained in any way. She was always able to come and go as she pleased and visited many of Gene’s neighbors from time to time.

“Since the dogs were trained to never leave the farm, this led Prissy to never wanting to leave,” said Gene. “The dogs were her herd, and she wanted to be with them.”

So, Prissy stayed willingly and became a part of the Gilbert family.

“It would drive the DNR crazy because people would drive by and see Prissy in the yard, and they would call them and tell them we were holding this deer captive, but we weren’t,” said Gene. “This happened for the first five years we took care of Prissy, but she stayed willingly because of the dogs, not because we made her.”

Since Gene and his wife, Toni, had never helped a wild animal before, there was a lot to learn. Through watching Prissy grow, Gene noticed her estrus cycle was odd.

“She would actually come into heat as late as March and as early as October, but I am not sure if that’s because she’s never been bred,” said Gene. “When she participates in the rut, she goes out, pees on her hocks and all that, and when the buck decides to come after her, she jumps the fence and runs back to the house with the dogs. She just won’t stay still long enough for one of the bucks to breed her. The dogs can’t leave the yard, and as long as the dogs don’t leave, Prissy doesn’t stay gone long because she likes to be with them.”

Over the past two decades, Prissy had the chance to entertain many people.

“Many school classes, friends and relatives have been constant visitors over the last 20 years,” said Gene. “We will always have special memories of watching people’s reactions when they would see her in our yard for the first time and how they got excited if they could get her to pose for a photo.”

Prissy was a free-ranging deer that hung around Gene’s home for 20 years. The doe found a connection with Gene’s dogs.

Being two months shy of 20 years old, Prissy died on Feb. 26, 2019.

“To our knowledge, Prissy is the most well-documented and oldest deer on record in Georgia,” said Gene.

Since Prissy was a free-range deer, it was rare for her to live this long.

“It’s not uncommon for deer to live up to 20 years, especially in captivity, but in this situation, it’s pretty rare,” said Charlie Killmaster, WRD’s state deer biologist.

Gene went on to add, “People don’t give credit to deer for being as smart as they are. I saw her play mind games with the dogs and completely fool them on multiple occasions.”

He had the chance to experience and discover how educated deer can be and is thankful for the years he got to spend with Prissy.

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1 Comment

  1. drenalin08 on April 4, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    incredible story,thanks for sharing.

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