Friday, May 12, 2017

Early antlers

Since the neighbors feed the deer, the small herd of 7 had stayed close by throughout the winter.  Now that the snow was melting, they were moving back to their more biologically appropriate foods sources; grass, shrubs and trees.


I had suspected that one of the twins born last spring was a buck, but until this point, I had not been able to get my camera zoomed in enough to make sure. But, there they are!  The start of little pedicles on his head.



I hope that he sticks around throughout the summer so that I can watch his antlers grow but I have a feeling that he will leave this group and we will have only does to watch.  Maybe he will come back in the fall when the rut hits!



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Circle of life: roadkill edition

"Did you see that?" Staci had noticed a large bird in the woods while we were driving down the road.  I stopped the car and slowly reversed.  Like normal outdoor women, we parked the car on the side of the road, grabbed our cameras and started walking across the road, taking photos of dead animals and the predators that were taking advantage of the food.

A dead deer in the woods makes a great meal for scavengers

There was no bird on the deer carcass when we got a clear view of it, but there was a bird in the trees angrily squawking at us.  At first, I thought it sounded like an osprey but when I saw this eagle hiding above us.  He was not happy to have his meal interrupted. We snapped a few more pictures and left him to go back to eating. 

An immature Bald Eagle




Saturday, April 29, 2017

We may never find a shed

At this point, Staci and I just say that we are doing shed hunting but in reality, we just walk through the woods and see what we can find.  Our latest trip was quite the adventure.  I took Staci to T3 and showed her where Dad had shot his doe.   The trick was getting there without getting hurt.

There was enough crust on the snow to be able to walk on it in the morning.  We debated bringing our snowshoes, but ruled that we could handle the crust with the occasional inch break through. 

The amount of deer tracks right from the start were nice to see.  They had been checking the old apple trees and following a lot of the same trails that they had been taking during hunting season.  We started off at the Sky Condo, then traveled through the woods to T3.  There were a handful of deer beds close, which is not typical for them at this point in the winter.  It looked like the herd was staying closer to the Sky Condo then they typically did. 

Staci and I made our way through the woods and into a clearing.  We were talking and I happened to look up and see deer standing nearby watching us but not worried that we were there.  Something else was catching their attention more than us.

One doe never stopped watching us but the other two either didn't care that we were there or never realized it.  We kept walking to T3 and made sure that we were not getting too close to the deer.  There was enough winter left that we wanted to make sure that the deer were not using too much energy thinking that we were a threat. 

We made it half way across the clearing when I saw what the deer had been looking at; one lone deer walking along the small ridge line. A buck possibly? Maybe the big one that has alluded us for the past few years?

 
I was never able to get a clear picture to confirm that he was actually a he, but I like thinking that it was.  He slipped a little on the crust as he waved his tail and bound off into the woods.

Staci and I continued on to T3 and kept looking for sheds.  If that deer had been a buck, his antlers had dropped and maybe we could find them.  We walked and walked and walked.  Every once in a while we would break through the crust but overall, we were ok.  There were plenty of deer trails to follow so we kept an eye out for bone and more deer.

We easily crossed the stream and walked along an old skidder trail.  Staci found some chaga that I will need to go back and harvest but we didn't find any sheds.  The snow was starting to get softer when we crossed back over the stream.  Pausing for a snack, we could see the opening where we had left the deer a few hours before. 

I am sure it was comical if you were not the ones having to do it, but for every two steps we now took, we sunk and sunk a lot.  It was not uncommon for us to sink up to our knees or thighs.  What should have taken us a few minutes took us an hour.  We were exhausted and sweaty when we made it out of the woods.  We had lost one crampon; it wasn't worth trying to go back for it (Dad later found it and brought it back home) but we had been able to see some healthy deer and get a good trek through the woods in.

We are batting 0-3 in looking for sheds but maybe we just use that as our excuse for getting out into the woods and walking around.  It will be sheer luck when we do find one!


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monitoring Maine's deer

You could ask any deer hunter how the herd is in their area and get a different answer every time.  We all want the best habitat, doe to buck ratio and a very limited number of predators in our area. What I didn’t know, is that like moose here in Maine, we have deer that are collared and monitored in order to help biologists understand the true health of the deer herd. I sat down with Maine’s deer biologist Kyle Ravana to ask him about the collaring program and what he (and IFW) hope to learn from it. 


 
Where are the deer that are being collared? And why those WMDs?
Right now, we have deer collared in WMD 17 and 6 and want to expand into either WMD 8 or 1.  17 is good because there is usually a good mix of snow pack levels and human population numbers.  6 is almost split into two regions; the west that has the big woods and the east that has farms and urban areas. We really want to get a slice of every possible habitat the deer live in so that we can have a thorough idea of what our deer are experiencing. 

What are you hoping to learn from the collaring program?
We are looking at a bunch of information; winter severity as it relates to winter mortality, how deer are using the landscape, where they are yarding up, how they are adapting to their habitat, and where they are traveling.  We also have 27 weather stations that we get information from that gives us temperature information, snow pack amounts and deer-sinking depths.

What are deer sinking depths?
Exactly what it sounds like. If we get one or two feet of snow, it is hard for the deer to move around but if there is a layer of crust that forms on the top of that snow that they can walk on, it doesn’t matter how much snow is below it, because they deer can walk on the crust and move around fairly well and still access food sources.

How do you trap a deer?
We have a variety of ways.  A Clover trap is like a large Have-A-Heart.  We jump into the trap with the deer and can usually get back out and send the deer on its way in just a couple of minutes.  The key to this whole process is to stress the deer as little as possible.  We can also use a drop net, rocket net or a dart gun.  Our goal is to have 45 deer collared in each WMD that we are in. 

Which deer are you collaring?
We will put permanent collars on does, ear tags on bucks and for any yearlings that we get, we put on a temporary collar that has a piece that biodegrades in about 6 months and falls off.  Then, we can go back and retrieve the collar, replace the piece that wore away and use it again. 

How can you tell if the collar has fallen off?
We monitor all of the collars. If any of them have not moved in 3-4 hours, then we go out and retrieve the collar to see what is going on; did it fall off or did the deer die. 

Will this help you get a better idea of predation on deer?
It could.  It will let us know how many deer are dying and what the cause was.  That information will help us with the overall index that we use.

Index?
We take all of the data that we collect and plug it into a matrix. We look at how the numbers compare year to year and that gives us an idea of the overall health of the deer population. What I am trying to do now is update our measurement tools with recent information and update the matrix so that our overall index is more accurate and relevant to what our deer are experiencing now and not twenty years old.

Do you use the index to determine any-deer permits?
That’s a part of it.  We manage on a WMD level so if there are high mortality rates in certain WMDs, then we can add or take away the number of permits that we issue per year.

Does this collaring study fit in with the new management plan that your committee, the steering committee and Department have been working on?
Yes and we really want the public to read the plan and add their input when it’s time.  We know that there are concerns about Lyme, ticks, car accidents etc.  We want to make sure that we are doing what is right for the entire state’s herd and not just managing the deer for hunters. We really want to hear what everyone has to say about the management plan.


Kyle and I then got into a conversation about people feeding deer in the winter.  You can read more about that here

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.