Mon09012014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

   2014 39.95 HSD w VIDor PH-Banner2-500-x-125

This weather has been tough on game

Last season (2012-2013), we had a bad outbreak of hemorrhagic disease (HD) that culled the deer herd very thoroughly in King George County. That left fewer deer in the woods, but the upside to that was that the remaining deer had more food and less competition for it the following year (2013-2014). It was a good thing, because the problem was compounded by the failure of just about all oaks and many beeches and hickory trees to produce any nuts. So, what little food that was out there was not really ideal for the deer herd, unless they were feeding on agriculture fields. Even agricultural fields are presently picked very efficiently, so once harvested, most leave little behind.

That being said, the deer were really working for their meals this fall and winter. I noticed deer several weeks ago within sight of my back door eating tree saplings. I can count on one hand how many times I have seen that since I have lived here. I understand that in subdivisions and in other areas of the county, deer regularly come up into yards. It does not happen at my house very often at all. There is generally plenty of food in the woods away from the house for the deer, and there is no need for them to come up this close. The two dogs we have are very aggressive and often scare the deer off, at least from the back yard.

The recent snow has really made life tough on many animals. I have seen many small saplings munched off. I noticed a small evergreen shrub growing along a trail in my woods that is stripped of foliage as far up as the deer can get to it. The snow pack was beaten down to nothing around this particular shrub, too. Just yesterday, two small deer (one was a very late-dropped fawn judging by its size), slipped into the back yard to nibble on the peach tree and among the wild raspberry vines. The German shepherd was asleep a mere twenty yards away. Once he woke up, they bounded away.

Later, I went outside and noticed deer tracks coming right up to the house. They stopped right under my daughter’s window. Apparently, the butterfly bush was now fair game. I feel like the folks that live in Presidential Lakes, who lose their shrubbery to deer on a regular basis. With few-to-no acorns falling this year, there is no point for the deer to even bother digging through the snow to try to find any. The remaining squirrels scarfed those up long ago.

Speaking of squirrels, I have seen very few squirrels since October. Several biologists have commented that at times of mast failures, squirrels will migrate. I am thinking that if there is any truth to that, then perhaps the squirrels did migrate. But to where? Nowhere in the state was the mast crop decent! Normally, we see squirrels all over our back yard and wood line, but the same two squirrels keep trying to get to our bird feeder.
Perhaps one of my temporary concerns during the last snow was that the smallest fawns were having a tough time getting around quickly. Their little hooves were punching right through the snow. I wondered if the coyotes could make an easier stalk and meal of the deer, as they were probably more easily able to run through the snow and perhaps stay on top of it. I don’t have any evidence that happened, but the thought did cross my mind. The snow has since melted substantially, and it looks like we are working towards spring with little snowfall in the long- range forecast. Buds will be coming out soon, so the deer will have something better to eat.

So, is it a “gloom and doom” prediction for the wildlife? Not really. Animals have survived far worse in the past. I feel somewhat bad for them, though. When you drive up the driveway and see an adult deer and two young ones gnawing on trees, it does make you appreciate being able to eat what you want to eat, and when you want to eat it. The season has certainly been very tough on animals. The combination of the HD two years ago, the present mast crop failure, bitterly cold temperatures, and now the snow and ice is certainly making sure that only the fittest survive. Perhaps the does that might have dropped two fawns this spring will only drop one, but the deer herd will bounce back. Time will tell.

Next week- an update on the big game harvest statewide.

Mark Fike

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