A glimpse of a deer in its natural surroundings is always a thrill. But at the base of the Fresno County foothills deer have their run of the place. Over 50 doe and three bucks gather to graze amid an ever-growing herd.
"They're really neat to watch and watch their social aspect of how they handle everything," Ron Goode of the Ta-Hoot Ranch said.
Ron and Myra Kirk-Goode have been raising Fallow deer for over a quarter of a century at the Ta-Hoot Ranch. In the North Fork Mono Tribe Ta-hoot is the word for deer.
Some of the animals are very dear to Myra, who treats them like pets.
"My dad and I always had cattle as did mom. Horses, we always had horses so I've been around animals all my life," Myra Kirk-Goode said.
The deer are divided into three herds with three bucks who males must be separated because they fight. The pens are located next to a busy highway but the deer are used to the constant noise.
An eight-foot fence keeps the deer in place though Ron Kirk-Goode once saw a buck clear a seven-foot high fence.
"He looked at it sideways and then kept eyeballing it and I told my wife that buck's gonna jump. He's gonna go. He went up sideways and got up on top of it and rolled himself over it." Ron Kirk-Goode said.
Ron said by the time he went out to look for the runaway buck it had returned. He probably missed the 20 females at home.
The deer no doubt are cute but this is not a petting zoo. The Goodes sell meat to restaurants and people who enjoy venison. Ron said, "I think it's one of the most nutritional food meat products there is. There isn't anything better. It's very lean, actually about 98 percent lean. Our burgers are about 95 percent."
Ron Goode is the tribal chairperson of the North Fork Mono tribe. Deer is more than just a food source. Native Americans use deer for everything from drums, clothing and moccasins to basket-making.
"Deer has always been a major part of my tribal way and my cultural way. We utilize every part of the animal and it's a part of why we're still in business," Ron Kirk-Goode
Two doe named Gracie and Rosie clearly are Myra's favorites. They're not going anywhere.
"He's pretty good about if I say that one can't go, he won't argue with me." Myra Kirk-Goode said.
Ron added, "The rule is no names. Once you name them then it makes it very difficult and that means you're gonna be saving them."
Ta-Hoot Ranch is one of the state's biggest venison producers. Sometimes the Goodes can't keep up with demand. But their appreciation of the animal is unwavering.
"When we go down the road and see native deer. We stop, we take pictures, we exclaim, look there's deer, even though we have them wandering around in our backyard out here. We've hand raised them and even had diapers on them as babies in the house." Ron Kirk-Goode said.
Not only is it a cultural tradition it is a business. Ron Kirk-Goode said venison also serves as tribal medicine - just like the acorn.
If you're interested in venison you can contact the Ta-Hoot Ranch Deer Ranch at (559) 299-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.