The Deer Ranch in St Ignace Michigan. A chance to feed and pet a real deer.
Just to the west of St Ignace sits an interesting stop for anyone who has time either coming or going through the UP. Located on highway 2 just a mile outside of town is the Deer Ranch. The Deer Ranch contains a herd of some of very rare examples of whitetail deer such as piebald and albino specimens. The ranch also houses deer that are unable to return to the wild for whatever reason. Some of these deer were injured in car accidents, while others are the young of deer that arrived at the ranch. Having grown up around humans these deer simply cannot be released into the wild and hope to survive. The ranch offers sanctuary for these deer.
It was weird being there and knowing that hunting season was in full swing while we were there. In fact, a few of the visitors there were hunters. Some wanted to bring their sons to see what their quarry was before they hunted for the first time. Some came to appreciate the species that they enjoy to hunt in a way that is unnatural and allows them to get closer to their food in a way that they could never do in the wild. Then there were just lots of families and kids getting close to nature in a way that few zoos can hope to do.
The ranch is unassuming from the front, with a simple sign to advertise it's existance. Part of this has to do with the history and charm of this place. According to their website the Deer Ranch has been open since 1950 making it 70 years old. This ranch is part of the history of tourism in the area and it's nice to see that it's very maintained while keeping it's charm and old style to the buildings. The ranch also claims that it's the oldest live whitetail exhibit in North America.
For Adults the admission is $6 which is very affordable for the tourist destination. This makes visiting the Deer Ranch an exceptional value. But for merely $1 you can also buy a cup of chopped carrots or grain and feed the deer. You might think this dollar won't go very far but we fed quite a few deer with just one cup. Two was plenty.
Feeding the deer was great because not every deer was hungry and so only the deer that wanted to come up to visit with us did so. This really made the deer feel relaxed and I felt as if they saw us as an exhibit just as much as we thought the same of them.
The Deer Ranch isn't just a collection of deer, it's a collection of rescued deer and oddities. For most Native American tribes albinos are considered sacred. Yet every so often an albino deer will pop up and some selfish white hunter will shoot it so that he can mount it on his wall and say to his friends, "I killed that." That's if the albino deer even gets to maturity. A deer normally survives through adolescence through camouflage and hiding. A white deer sticks out like a sore thumb. There are several albinos at the Deer Ranch. This one just happened to take an interest in what I was doing trying to load film and really seemed to appreciate how I showed her my film and let her watch me load my camera.
These deer were very receptive to having their picture taken. They actually tried their best to pose here.
The paths around the park are grass and I think that's awesome. It really helps you feel like you are in the woods. I really like how this setup works, while there are enclosures they feel like they are built into the forest that sits to the rear of the park and extends through the UP.
Feeding deer like this was something new to me. I had fed deer things like wormy apples before but not in a setting like this. The deer were particularly gentle around children I noticed and I couldn't help but see that the does saw children on the outside of the fences as being vulnerable. They were so tender with them. The males were a bit more aggressive about taking food. With either gender of deer though I noticed that the way they nibbled at food makes feeding them very safe, even for children. I've been bitten by horses and cows before by not being careful with my fingers and I don't think I would trust random people to feed them. These deer on the other hand were very fun to feed.
Petting a deer like this was a new experience to me as well. Some of the deer really appreciated neck scratches or having their ears rubbed. They really seemed to enjoy certain people. I actually watched a little girl give a doe a hug through the fence and the deer returned the affection. Rowdy and bouncy kids seemed to make the deer leery so if you bring your kids you might want to tell them that they should be gentle and quiet if they want the deer to come close to them.
Some deer were just really curious about my camera and I was happy to show them what I was doing. This deer had just seen a picture of herself and seemed to figure out what I was trying to do. I think a lot of animals like this "get it" about photography once you show them what you are doing. They may not care, but they understand what you are doing.
Speaking of photography this place may be a goldmine for deer photos. This spike buck was sitting close to the fence and let me take his picture. Nature photographers would die for an opportunity like this in the wild and for most of us we'll never get that chance. So the deer ranch offers an exciting opportunity for photography.
Then there was the fawn shed. The fawns were kept in their own enclosure and were able to go into a barn to get out of the wind, rain, and snow. This was the first and probably only time I will ever get to pet a live fawn. Caitlyn was a huge hit with these little guys. And yes, that is yet another albino towards the back.
In conclusion I think this is a wonderful place and seems to be under-visited which is a shame. It's not going to be your destination but it will offer a great break from traveling through the UP of Michigan. At the very least it could be a chance to stretch your legs during your road trip. Otherwise if you are going through St Ignace on vacation this is definitely worth stopping for. The combination of price, and experience makes this an exceptional value. It's a great place to visit after you've gotten your obligatory photos of the Mackinaw Bridge.
I think it's important for people, especially children to see whitetail deer in a setting besides splattered on the side of the road or with a bullet hole in it. Deer are an important part of the food chain and that food chain includes humans. Hunters I met here understood that and were passionate about their understanding of this fact. The rare deer at this ranch along with their shed antlers over the years are something wonderful to be appreciated.