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Over the years I've driven down to Key West dozens of times. Always in a hurry, I'd never taken the time to stop and explore the numerous nooks and crannies off U.S. 1's beaten path.
Over the weekend, I had some time to briefly explore one of those nooks.
On Saturday, a friend and I drove through the National Key Deer Refuge at Big Pine Key.
It didn't take long before we were rewarded with glimpses of these docile and not-very-elusive wild animals.
There are signs everywhere that warn against feeding Key deer. But on our very first encounter with one of these diminutive creatures, we saw evidence that some are ignoring those warnings.
As we slowed and stopped to look at a buck on the side of the road, he looked up and then immediately made his way to our car like some kind of four-legged panhandler, craning his neck expectantly.
Like most of the deer on Big Pine Key, he lost his natural fear of humans long ago and now associates people in cars with just one thing: Food.
Here's a doe we saw feeding on the side of the road that made no attempt to approach our car.
If you've never taken the time to visit these little guys, I heartily recommend a trip. (By the way, Big Pine Key is also home to the No Name Pub, a Florida landmark.)
But remember, as cute as Key deer are, they're still wild animals and not pets. And, as with any wild animal, please resist any temptation to feed them.
Also, pay attention to your speed on roads in or near the Key Deer Refuge. In 2011, a record number of Key deer were killed after being struck by cars.
More info on Key deer at NWF.org