Monday, February 6, 2017

Really! Stop feeding the deer

It's that time of year when deer are yarded up and surviving the harsh winter weather.  I've been fortunate enough to see lots of healthy looking deer while walking through the woods.  In talking with friends about the deer herd in their area, they have mentioned that they want to start feeding the deer to help them make it through the winter.  I quickly respond with NO! Don't feed the deer!

It is fun to see deer come out of the woods and munch on grain or corn, but what a lot of people don't realize is that feeding deer these foods during the winter months could have dire consequences and could actually kill the deer that they are trying to help.  Here are the primary reason why you should not feed deer during the winter:

Biological Impact: Every animal has bacteria in their gut that helps to break down food. In the case of white-tails, the bacteria changes depending on the season and what their primary food source will be.  In the spring, summer and early fall months, foods like grass, corn, apples, acorns etc. are easily processed to help the deer produce healthy fawns, rebuild weight lost after the winter and in the fall, help the deer put on weight to survive the long winter months.  According to an article published on qdma.com (Quality Deer Management Association), "a healthy doe begins winter with a 90-day fat supply." Depending on the severity of the winter, that can easily get them into March or beyond.

In the late fall and early winter, the bacteria in the gut changes to be able to process winter browse like parts of trees and plants.  This change means that foods like corn and grain can not be processed as effectively as they could in the summer and fall months.  According to Maine deer biologist Kyle Ravana, if deer are fed these foods, it ends up building up in their system and can go unprocessed.  The deer feel hungry because they are not getting nourishment and energy from these foods simply because their body is not made to process these types of food in the winter but there is no room in their stomach for more food to fit.  The result can be starvation.  This article from Outside magazine does a great job of describing the impact winter feeding can have and the disastrous results it can play on the local deer herd.

Disease: According to Ravana, diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (Blue Tongue) spread quickly when deer are gathered into groups. Currently, neither of these devastating diseases are present in Maine. The closest CWD has gotten to Maine is New York.  Both diseases are devastating to deer herds and can wipe out large numbers in a short period of time.  Feeding deer and causing a higher than average number of deer to be grouped up, makes it easier for these types of diseases to get shared and then spread when the deer move out of their yards in the spring.  What Maine does have is Lyme and when there is a high concentration of deer, there is also a higher probability of there being more Lyme cases.

Easy kills: As deer are lured away from their natural yarding (and protection) areas with the promise of food, they put themselves at a greater danger of being killed by vehicles.  Just this morning, my Dad reported that while out snowmobiling, he came across a guy who had hit a deer on his snowmobile.  The deer had one, maybe two, broken legs but was not dead and would need to be shot. While these incidents do happen, when you feed deer and alter their normal behaviors, you end up with a higher concentration of deer making it easier for these accidents (between cars, snowmobiles etc.) to happen.

Also, the more deer you can get into a small piece of woods, the easier you make it for predators like coyotes to get a quick meal.  Deer and coyotes both learn quickly where their food is and for coyotes, knowing that they don't have to travel far to have their pick of deer saves them time and energy during the winter months when smaller animals like mice and rabbits may be harder to find.  In areas of Maine where coyotes are impacting fawn recruitment, we don't want to help them any more than we already do.

A deer peeks out from the woods in my backyard

While we all love to see glimpses of wildlife near our homes, please do some research before feeding deer.  If you really want to help them out and own a woodlot or piece of woods, consider cutting down a tree or two to provide more winter browse and keep the deer on their normal winter diet. If we want to continue to see our deer herd grow and stay healthy, we need to be smart about the way in which we are helping them.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Gettting the kiddos outside

I have always loved winter; playing outside, sledding, snowmobiling and skiing. It wasn’t until recently that I started ice fishing and snowshoeing. Now that I have a kiddo who also loves the outdoors, we have to find ways to get outside, even when it’s snowing.

Tracking animals
: Winter is the perfect time to figure out what kind of animals you have around your home or property. It is a great scouting tool and it helps kids understand what animals are near their home and how to identify them by the tracks they leave in the snow. Deer are some of the easiest and we have spent hours following deer trails to see where the deer are traveling. This is especially fun if you know where the deer herd yards up and can look for sheds while out in the woods. Snowshoe hare leave unique tracks and they change color throughout the year, which is always appealing to kids. We don’t love seeing coyote tracks but as a hunter, it helps you understand where they are moving and kids can see how canines leave nail tracks with their paw prints as opposed to any cat track like a bobcat. Turkey are easy to follow as well and it’s amazing to see where they travel compared to where you have traveled.

Ice fishing: We have been fortunate to have friends who know how and where to ice fish and my kiddo has loved every adventure out. Last February, we went to a small pond and set up the traps. Every time a flag would go up, the kiddo would jump into the green plastic sled that we brought (the ice was too slick and we wore crampons to get around) and we would run to the bright orange flag flying. He would get out and start pulling on the line, almost before an adult could help.

As we pulled up pickerel and bass, he learned what each type of fish looked like, which ones have teeth and how to stick his thumb into the mouth of a bass in order to hold it up before putting it back into the water. He would also help with putting the bait fish into the water. We brought home a 18 inch small mouth that my son would have hugged the entire 3 hours back home had we let him. When we cooked it, he ate more than any of us.

Sledding and snowmobiling: There is no better way to see some of the remote places of Maine, than by snowmobile. My family has always had snowmobiles and I have many great memories of sitting behind Mom or Dad exploring the woods and smaller trails. We would go to dinner at nearby restaurants and get there via snowmobile. It offers up a brand new look at the scenery. I also remember lots of great trips on the inner tube or big black sled that we would tie to the back of the snowmobile and go for rides around the nearby fields. Sure, we would fall off and get face full of snow, but that was just par for the course.

There are so many ways to get outside and enjoy the snow this time of year. Getting kids outside helps to create and maintain their love of the outdoors and appreciation for all of the great seasons that we have here in Maine.




Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Learning to eat wild game

I wrote the following for the Northwoods Sporting Journal. What are your thoughts on eating wild game and teaching kids about where their food really comes from?



On the Monday after rifle season began, my three year old’s preschool asked him what he had done over the weekend. Straight faced, he looked at her and said, “Daddy shot a deer and I ate the heart” and walked off to play with his friends. She looked at me in disbelief and all I could do was smile and nod.

The excitement of getting a deer was at its peak for him when we drove into the driveway with my husband’s deer. That same three year old rubbed his hands down the back of the deer, held onto its antlers and when we hung it in the barn, he stuck his head almost inside the chest cavity and asked, “Is this all steak?” At three he knows that an animal, in animal form, will end up as pieces of meat on our plates.

I don’t think that we are doing anything special to teach him where his food comes from. We are hunters and have hunting and trapping friends. We go into the woods for the sole purpose of bringing back food. And maybe that is it; as a society we have become so disconnected from where our food comes from that it is almost taboo to talk about the gut pile associated with every piece of meat that we eat. Think back to the bear referendum and if you had to tell anyone that bears were hunted because they taste good. If it is not a common game animal (deer, moose and turkey), people seem incredibly hesitant to try it. Maybe that is why we rename our food so often; it sounds fancier if you call it venison, beef, pork etc. instead of bear, beaver and moose. If we make a conscious effort to educate everyone on what they are eating and which animal it came from, then maybe we would have more people willing to try new foods.

Over the past few months, we have been lucky enough to have bear, wild turkey, moose, beaver and deer meat end up on our plates. Co-workers and even my parents gave me odd looks when I talked about the beaver roast that I was making in the crockpot thanks to the trapping talents of my friend Staci, but my kiddo will sit down and eat all of it. His favorite is bear meat! Game meat is so delicious, organic and about as free range as you can get.

We owe it to ourselves and our kids to learn and try new types of game meat. And what is the easiest way to do that? Try a game dinner. There are a bunch of them across Maine and Unity College puts a great one on each spring. It was there that I tried bear, beaver and Axis deer for the first time and all were delicious.

I encourage you to try a new type of game this year! Why not try bear meat or be willing to bring the heart of your deer home to fry up? It might become your new favorite.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wait! It's not over yet

"All I saw was blue smoke" dad said smiling.

One week after I shot my deer and rifle season ended, Dad was still hard at it trying to get one of those big bucks we still had pictures of. But, instead, he squeezed the trigger and got his first deer with a muzzleloader.

According to Dad: two doe came crossed three different shooting lanes before starting to talk at him. When he decided to fire at the biggest doe, he lined up the sites and just saw the blue smoke and no deer. 

"I got down and walked to where I saw her last.  The second doe was still standing nearby, so I knew she was down.  When that second doe ran off by itself, I knew the deer was somewhere near by"  Dad picked up the blood trail and tracked his doe... right into a nice puddle of cold water,"She was completely in the water and dead." 

Dad pulled her out and got her back onto higher ground, then got his skidder to pull her out the rest of the way.  When you lose two fellow hunters who have tagged out and don't muzzle hunt, you are left with no help to haul a deer out of the woods and need to be resourceful.

Dad's doe weighed 134lbs dressed.  Which, ironically was exactly in the middle of Hub's deer (124lbs) and mine (144lbs).



Dad and I have never shot deer in the same season.  The fact that all three of us ended the season with successful hunts is incredible.  Mom is pretty sure that we won't see a deer again for five years, but hey, we had an incredible season and will be eating well all winter... and probably into next fall.