FOOD VS. PREDATORS

FOOD VS. PREDATORS

16 APRIL 2012

The Whitetail Deer sightings have been fantastic since winter let loose it's grip on Eastern Maine. Not that it had much of a grip to begin with. I didn't measure each storm but, if it added up to 2 feet the entire winter, I'd be surprised. The storms were spread out enough that it never accumulated to 2 feet. Each storm pretty much melted away prior to the next one. Most of the winter we were enjoying bare ground. The deer herd too, enjoyed it as well. I've seen many more deer than usual this spring  and they all look healthy and well fed. I'd be happy to get 3 winters in a row just like this one.

Which brings up the inspiration for this blog. I had an interesting conversation  the other day with a good friend and fellow guide Greg. We were getting ready for a night of freshwater smelt fishing when I commented on "how glad I was that the deer herd had such an easy winter this year". Greg's immediate response was..." Did they " ??  What do you mean I thought to myself, where did you spend the winter?

He then told me something that his grandfather had always told him about the lack of snow during the winter months. It was something I had never considered and I must say it gave me more than a moment of pause. It was his grandfathers contention that the lack of snow hurt the deer! My mind quickly tried to come up with a good reason why, but I drew a blank. "Why is that" I asked..."Because without the snow  to stand on, they can't reach the browse that was too high in the summer and fall" he said. That by the end of the fall, the deer have pretty much cleaned up all the reachable food sources and that they need that lift the deep snow gives them to eat the previously unattainable browse.

At first I felt foolish for not coming up with that right away, but I have never been accused of being a quick thinker. (I've heard that Albert  Einstein was the same way)..... But, there was no argument that his grandfathers reasoning was sound. For sure there was no way the deer could reach that high browse prior to snow. That is undeniable, and depending on how much snow, it could add up to a considerable amount of browse.

So, after a day or so of pondering this, (thinking at my pace)  I came to the conclusion that,  indeed the added food is a benefit to Deer. But...I also must conclude that the bare ground conditions greatly increase the herd's ability to evade predators all winter (namely: Wile E. Coyote) and that... I think, out weighs the added food source. Coyotes kill many many deer each winter. Especially late winter, when the snow is deep and crusted over so that the coyote can run on top and the deer break through.

Deer can almost always find food. During the winter they will dig through the deep snow and frozen ground to get to tiny fern bulbs. This must use up a lot of much needed energy. With no snow, that task would be simple. But it is also an example of how hard they must work to find food. So, the browse they can now reach is certainly valuable. But with no snow at all, the deer don't need to yard and can find food anywhere.

 It's hard to contradict anyone's grandfather. We all know that the old timers were good woodsman and knew things that to them were simply basic knowledge. Only a fool would disregard the wisdom of that generation. They were practical minded & not all fogged up by todays over analyzed and commercialiized means of hunting. (But that is a whole other blog subject.)  I think in his day, Greg's grandfather was right on the money. Primarily because the winters tended to be worse back then and the coyote problem was practically non existent. Certainly not the case today. These days anyone who has followed a deer track very far in the snow, has witnessed there is usually a coyote track nearby. In the old days The only serious predator the deer in a wintering yard had to worry about was a marauding Bobcat. (and poachers).

So... I think that coyotes probably kill more deer during a bad winter than lack of food kills in a snowless one. Weighing one over the other I think a snowless winter is better for the deer than a bad winter is. Just my humble opinion...This is going to be a great year to Deer hunt Maine.

Thanks Greg, for the "injection" of passed down knowledge. I would have loved to have been hunting Whitetails in the Maine wilderness of your Grandfather's time. I Look foraward to our next outing my friend...

The above image is another great painting by Raymond ( yodeling slim ) Clark titled  " Beech Ridge Buck ". He also painted the picture we use as our logo  at the top of our web pages titled " Sunrise Surprise". Please visit his web site and view all his prints available at a great price.