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Winter's Wrath

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January 12, 2011
Winter's Wrath - 3

You could sense a tipping point last week. Our grinding winter weather — which has been intensifying since mid December — is finally taking its toll on critters, especially those whitetail bucks that entered the winter run down and ragged from the rut.
 
Since the week before Thanksgiving, we’ve been above freezing only three times, and our low temperatures during December averaged just above zero here in Montana. We have already experienced some 30-below mornings, bitter cold that we don’t expect until February most years.
 
Since New Year’s Eve, when we got an additional 8 inches of snow on top of the two feet already on the ground, deer have been shedding their notorious nervous fear of humans and have been coming ever closer to our homesteads here in the Milk River Valley.
 
We feed horses, and the hay bales yarded near the corrals are getting hit by up to 50 deer a night. In the morning you can see the quantitative impact of all those mouths, bales shredded, more hay stamped into the ground by hundreds of hooves that are bloody and bruised from punching through drifted snow, dozens of dish-shaped beds in the hay where deer found some insulation from the killing cold.
 
This is the dark side of living among so many deer, and in a part of the world where wildlife populations boom and bust with weather conditions.
 
It’s been nearly a decade since the last epidemic of EHD, or epizootic hemmorhagic disease, swept through here. And while it’s been cold and snowy the last three winters, we haven’t seen a colossal winterkill in nearly seven years. So maybe it’s time that our booming whitetail populations got tamped back.
 
Still, that realization doesn’t make it any easier to find victims of the cold and snow. I took a snow-stomping hike yesterday, rifle in hand to pick off cottontails, and found more carcasses than I expected, including the winterkilled buck pictured here. Will the weather take more deer?

It seems likely. And while I don’t like to see the hay intended for my horses feed so many deer, it’s hard to deprive them of the emergency rations they obviously need so desperately.

 

To check out the weather forecast in your area go to: OL Weather

Comments (3)

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from Flatbed wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

I just thought it was cold here last night. Got down to 10. That is the one thing about living fairly south, we never have that kind of a kill from starvation on our deer. When we get snow and or ice it usually will be gone in a week.

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from cjohnsrud wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

Old Mother Nature can be difficult to understand sometimes. I find myself falling back on the discussions that I have with my children. "Sometimes mother nature needs to take out the weak and sick animals, so that the animals (or humans) left can lead stronger better lives." It is still hard to stomach at times. It makes want to pull in a alfalfa bale or 2 into my yard, but I know I would just prolong the inevitable.

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from charlie elk wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

We are having a tough winter here in WI with heavy snow then followed by rain with more snow, high winds and bitter temps. The deer are out in the fields desperately trying to dig through the icy crust and 2+ feet of hard pack snow looking for waste grain. In my area I have not found any winter kill yet; it is surely coming unless there is an unseasonably warm stretch causing a melt. In the northern part of the state buddies are telling of finding deer yards with numerous dead deer.
Nature is making the population adjustments to carrying capacity and nature always over corrects. This is a sign we hunters failed in keeping the herd within carrying capacity of the habitat.
The enzymes in the deer's digestive system change in order for them to digest natural browse, twigs, dead leaves, cedar tips. After this change happens; if they eat hay, they can not digest it so they starve with full stomachs.
A lot of this type of starving happened in the 60's and it took a decade or more to recover. As a young hunter I remember immense sadness at the sight of hundreds of dead deer laying on the hay that was intended to help them.
later,
charlie

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from charlie elk wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

We are having a tough winter here in WI with heavy snow then followed by rain with more snow, high winds and bitter temps. The deer are out in the fields desperately trying to dig through the icy crust and 2+ feet of hard pack snow looking for waste grain. In my area I have not found any winter kill yet; it is surely coming unless there is an unseasonably warm stretch causing a melt. In the northern part of the state buddies are telling of finding deer yards with numerous dead deer.
Nature is making the population adjustments to carrying capacity and nature always over corrects. This is a sign we hunters failed in keeping the herd within carrying capacity of the habitat.
The enzymes in the deer's digestive system change in order for them to digest natural browse, twigs, dead leaves, cedar tips. After this change happens; if they eat hay, they can not digest it so they starve with full stomachs.
A lot of this type of starving happened in the 60's and it took a decade or more to recover. As a young hunter I remember immense sadness at the sight of hundreds of dead deer laying on the hay that was intended to help them.
later,
charlie

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cjohnsrud wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

Old Mother Nature can be difficult to understand sometimes. I find myself falling back on the discussions that I have with my children. "Sometimes mother nature needs to take out the weak and sick animals, so that the animals (or humans) left can lead stronger better lives." It is still hard to stomach at times. It makes want to pull in a alfalfa bale or 2 into my yard, but I know I would just prolong the inevitable.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Flatbed wrote 3 years 27 weeks ago

I just thought it was cold here last night. Got down to 10. That is the one thing about living fairly south, we never have that kind of a kill from starvation on our deer. When we get snow and or ice it usually will be gone in a week.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)