Medina Journal-Register — Now, with the deer season over, one would think the deer are safe until next year. Actually, the months of January, February and March are the deer’s hardest times.
During these months, the only food available to them is browse in the form of tree and shrub twigs. They get their nutrition from the bark on the twigs, and the best is from twigs no thicker than a wooden matchstick. They will consume twigs up to the size of a wooden pencil, but this is a losing battle for them. First, the smaller twigs have the newest growth and their bark has the highest protein content — while the larger twigs have less bark in proportion to their volume, and this bark has a lower protein content.
There is another problem with this larger-sized twig: the body heat and energy lost in converting this to food to nutrients is often greater than the benefits gained.
The same thing happens when deer eat snow when in a weakened condition. The drain on the body to thaw the snow is usually greater than the benefits gained.
Deer can lose up to 30 percent of their weight during the winter and still survive, but after that point it becomes fatal. As a result, it is important that the deer go into winter with a good surplus of fat, especially if the winter turns out to be a hard one. This becomes more of a problem for bucks who were very active during the rut, because they used up much of their fat chasing does and not eating much.
The key to their survival during the harshness of the winter is their inactivity. They really just move and eat less, and their bodies draw nourishment from their body fat. When that is gone, it is drawn from their bone marrow and they “cannibalize” their muscle protein. Once these reserves are gone, the deer will not survive.
So the key to the deer’s survival during the dead of winter is to stay inactive so as not to burn precious calories. Fawns can go a month without eating and make it to the spring. Adult does may go over two months.
However, the problem is that various things prevent the deer from being inactive and can thus cause them to burn up those precious calories they cannot replace.
Years ago, snowmobiles traveled everywhere and caused deer to take flight. Today, they pretty much stay on marked trails which the deer learn to stay away from. Still, there are always a few that “have” to go look at the deer or see how close they can get, which can easily lead to their death a month or so later. These folks usually mean no harm but don’t realize what a strain they are putting on the deer by forcing them to move.
Another problem is free-ranging dogs that chase deer. Usually, those dogs can travel better in deep snow and in some cases can actually run a deer down. Free-ranging dogs chasing deer in those critical months should be reported to the local Conservation officer. They may not be actually running down the deer and killing them, but the “chase” could result in putting them in the starvation stage later.
Another predator that can be a problem for the deer is the coyote. They may not run down deer as often in our area as they do in the Adirondacks, but they can have the same effect as dogs that chase deer. This is one of the reasons it is important to have sportsmen hunting coyotes after deer season; they help keep the coyotes at a reasonable level. Of course, the real problem caused to deer by the coyote is their ability to find and catch fawns in the summer.
Some folks feel that deer need to be fed during a harsh winter. This is especially true with people in the Adirondacks. At first this sounds like the right thing to do and makes people feel good. However, artificial feeding is never the answer and often causes more problems than it solves.
First, such feeding allows more starving deer to survive and thus produce more deer next year. If there is not enough food to support the present population, then next year it will only be worse. It is a case of keeping the deer population in balance with the environment by either hunting or allowing nature to take its course, which is never a pleasant deal. There is also the thought that artificial feeding can cause the spread of diseases among the deer, because it concentrates them in one spot.
Not bothering deer or forcing them to be active during the stressful winter months goes a long way toward helping deer survive a harsh winter. Controlling your dog during the winter can also be a big boost to them.
To get sportsman’s news and info into The Great Outdoors, call Doug Domedion at (585) 798-4022 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.