Managing Deer and Deer Hunters

Many landowners face challenges caused by abundant deer. This animal evolved under heavy predation by wolves, bears, mountain lions, and Native American hunters. Their survival strategy, in addition to being well camouflaged and fleet, is to have many babies. A healthy doe normally bears one fawn when she is just one year old and twins or triplets in subsequent years. Wild predators have been extirpated but deer continue to reproduce at a rapid rate. When they are too numerous, over browsing of crops, trees, shrubs, and wildflowers devastates ecosystems. Deer numbers need to be kept in balance with their habitat to protect natural beauty and devastation.

Modern hunting is an effective substitute for predators. Deer hunting is popular but many hunters, or potential hunters, lack a place to hunt. Many landowners suffer deer damage but don’t hunt.

Successful match making between hunters and landowners can work toward their mutual benefit. However, the relationship is most successful when hunters are managed by the landowners with expectations clearly articulated BEFORE permission is granted to access property.

Most hunters are ethical but they sometimes stretch understandings, especially verbal ones.  For example, if a landowner gives permission for one person to hunt, he/she sometimes assumes that gives them license to invite their relatives or friends to hunt the property.  And, they may assume that this is perpetual permission and that they can hunt any species at any legal time without additional permission.  Also, to control deer populations it is essential to harvest does, yet many hunters seek only big bucks. Landowners using hunting as a management tool may need to insist that does be taken.

Attached is a sheet of expectations that a landowner might present to anyone wishing to hunt.  It articulates expectations and clarifies the relationship between landowner and hunter.

 

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Harvesting Deer for Meat Series

This week Winding Pathways will feature two blogs that cover the “ins and outs” of harvesting deer, landowner responsibilities and a sample agreement between landowners and deer hunters. This blog includes The Law, Equipment, and Ways to Process a Deer. The next blog on this topic will cover how landowners can manage hunters on their land and a sample agreement form.

Eating Deer

Frustrated homeowners often discover their landscape plants, flowers, and vegetables devoured by hungry urban and suburban deer.

Although we can find them annoying, deer are amazing. Deer are resourceful and adaptable. In many rural areas, their former habitat has been transformed into seas of corn, soybeans, or other crops. The hedgerows, woodlots, and brushy patches that once offered deer shelter have disappeared. So, they moved into town.

Many suburban and even urban areas offer a perfect place for deer to live. Parks and protected natural areas have secure places to live, and vegetable gardens, flower beds, and fruit trees are outstanding deer food. It’s no wonder so many towns are home to robust deer herds.

Although most people love seeing wildlife and enjoy having a few deer around when the garden is raided attitudes change quickly. In response, Winding Pathways and many garden books and blogs offer tips on how to protect trees and plants from hungry deer. Some hardly work, while others, especially secure fencing around gardens, keep deer out. Unfortunately keeping the hungry animals at bay is a never-ending and sometimes expensive task.

Many gardeners are proud to produce local organic vegetables. They might consider the deer that raid their garden a local, organic, free-ranging source of delicious meat.  When done according to state and local laws, converting a deer to family food in no way threatens deer herds. They rapidly reproduce, making deer a perpetual and sustainable food source.

Killing, dressing, and preparing deer meat is an unknown and somewhat mysterious process for suburbanites who have no experience with bows or firearms or converting a live animal to a meal. This blog will give them a basic idea how to do it.

To us shooting a deer is food gathering, much like picking spring nettles or mulberries.  We view deer as an opportunity to harvest local, organic, free-range meat.  

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Opossums are Wondrous Animals!

We like opossums and are always happy to see one shuffling off when we startle it after dark. This amazing animal gets too little respect and appreciation by people who consider them dirty, stupid, and ugly. They are just the opposite!

Opossums are doing something right. They’re survivors who have been on the planet far longer that humans. Often called ‘possums, they were once common only in southern states. Their fur is sparse and doesn’t cover tails or ears, so winter is rough on them. Warming temperatures are helping this animal move north, and they’re now common in Maine, Minnesota and other more northern states where they once were absent.

‘Possums are our only native marsupial. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch to nourish their young. Born after only a 13-day pregnancy tiny babies make their way into her pouch where they remain for about 100 days feeding on mom’s milk. Once they leave the pouch they follow her around learning how to fend for themselves.

Mostly nocturnal, possums aren’t choosy eaters. They love over ripe fruit, especially persimmons but they’ll also snack on insects, worms, dead animals, and nearly any other animal they can catch or find. Think of them as a gardener’s assistant because they gravitate to decaying material.

New research reveals an important diet item. They enjoy eating ticks! ‘Possums groom often and any tick that climbs aboard one and attempts to bite is in for a surprise.  The grooming animal is likely to find the tick and quickly devour it. Fewer than 4% of ticks that climb on a O’possum successfully enjoy a blood meal. The rest become a meal themselves.

We’re lucky to have opossums in our yard.  We enjoy sharing space with these ancient, clean, and useful animals.  We hope you also have a neighborhood ‘possum.   Be sure to share a photo of your ‘possum with us. For information on the opossum/tick relationship go to Cary Institute.

Bears! Oh, My!

Bears sightings are in the west are common and increasing across the northeast. Mountain lion sightings and encounters are well documented in Los Angeles, CA.
A guest blog by Susan Fehsinger, New Hampshire
“I’ve spent most of my life in southern New Hampshire. Growing up, we never heard of bears being anywhere near our area, but their population has been growing rapidly. Now, we hear of them regularly. Our first live rural sighting was about 15 years ago. Since then, we either have seen them or evidence of them at least once a year.
“We live in the country on 16 acres and the nearest house is about 300 feet away across the road. There is plenty of bear habitat and they are becoming very common. Last year I was taking a walk along a class 6 road (a road that is not maintained any longer but is often used) when a black bear strolled up from the river and across the road about 30 yards ahead. I froze. S/he turned and looked at me for a long 10 or 15 seconds before continuing into the woods. Did I have my phone? Yes. Did I think to snap a photo? Nope.
“One morning this spring about 6:45, when the sky was fully light, I began to hear noises and thought our cat was running around upstairs. After a while, though, I looked out the window which opens onto our screen porch. Two bears were tearing into the stone retaining wall at its foundation. They were pulling out the seeds that the chipmunks had stored there. Both were fully grown and one of them was the largest I have ever seen in this area. The strangest part of this experience was that they didn’t spook at all. I called my husband and we both stood at the glass door taking pictures and talking.
“The population of our small town is growing, yet we are seeing more wildlife that used to be rare. I saw my first bobcat a year or so ago, also. It’s great to know that wildlife is doing well and large predators are around. We humans just need to be aware of potential danger — for us in case of a confrontation, and for them, if our behavior causes them to habituate to people. Fish and Game does not want to have to kill an animal that’s only crime is looking for food that we provide them.
“Beginning in early spring we are told to bring in bird feeders (and in my case stop using the screen porch as an extra refrigerator!) It’s definitely good advice because bears are excellent at finding any and all available food. Usually, the ones we see in early spring are females with cubs, and they can be very dangerous if a human  gets between “mom” and her little ones. The fact that “my” bears were digging into a stonewall to get at seeds stored by chipmunks underlies how good they are at their job — feeding themselves and their cubs. We can learn to outsmart them, but they’ve been perfecting their food-finding skills for a long time and their senses are much better than ours. We have to become aware and vigilant so we can enjoy the fact that they’re here among us — just not too close.”
Check out these links below about bears, habitat and behaviors. Many of these sites refer to “wild” places like parks and the North Woods. And, remember that the advice on respecting bears, keeping your distance, and storing food all to avoid bear encounters is similar and are great tips for suburban and urban dwellers.

Foiling Chipmunks

Our dining room table overlooks a tiny pond circled with large stones. Many wild animals come to drink or bathe. One of our favorites is the sleek Eastern Chipmunk. Often, chipmunks fill their cheeks with seeds that fall from our bird feeders and carry them off to a stash.

Chipmunk Tunneling

This chipmunk figured out how to tunnel under the trap to get the seeds.

One summer we watched a clever chipmunk problem-solve how to access seeds from a live trap without getting trapped itself.  The ingenious chipmunk tunneled under the trap and up through the wire, helped itself to the food and returned back out the tunnel to store its treasure for later eating.

We love chipmunks but many people utterly hate them and ask us how to rid their yard of the tiny mammals. Although they can undermine rock walls by tunneling otherwise chipmunks do slight damage. They are most commonly found in shady yards with woodpiles or rock walls.

Chipmunks may be unusually numerous in suburban yards because people discourage their predators.  Bull snakes love dining on tasty chipmunk dinners but few homeowners want a six or eight-foot-long snake sharing their yard. Many hawks also devour chipmunks but, like snakes, they aren’t common in town. So, these small rodents have few predators to fear other than marauding house cats.

An effective way to keep chipmunk numbers in control is to encourage predators.  If snakes can’t be tolerated, removing woodpiles and rocks will eliminate chipmunk homes.

Occasionally chipmunks and white footed mice climb into vent pipes plumbing or clothes dryers. An easy way to discourage them is to buy a few stainless-steel scrub pads sold in most grocery stores.  These are balls of coarse, somewhat sharp metal. Put the pad in the pipe in a way that fills the void but doesn’t cause the pad to compress much. It acts like a filter, allowing air to move through it but not letting rodents pass.

But, mostly just enjoy your chipmunks.

Lions in this Here Country!

Mountain Lion

These big cats have over 40 names. (Courtesy NYPL free digital file.)

Early one December evening a neighbor was driving home near our home when she spotted movement out of the corner of her eye. Thinking a deer was about to dart in front of her car, she immediately stopped to prevent a collision.  She was astounded when a mountain lion crossed about ten feet in front of her  illuminated by headlights.

A mountain lion………in Iowa! Perhaps that’s not so farfetched. Our neighbor would know one when she saw it.

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are spreading out from their traditional home in western mountains. A couple of decades ago the only known eastern population of the big cats was in Florida, where they are extremely rare and are usually called panthers. These big cats were once common throughout North America except for the far north. They also ranged throughout all of Central and most of South America. As big predators they were heavily persecuted by humans, and their habitat was devastated by settlement. A big blow to cougars was the elimination of deer from much of their range in the late 1800’s.

Much has changed to give lions, or cougars as they are sometimes called, an opportunity to expand.

Most people now appreciate them as beautiful animals and don’t shoot them on sight. Many states protect them from shooting. Also, the woods and deer have returned. In 1900 most of what today is a vast hardwood forest that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean was farmed.   Many of those farms went out of business and trees move in. Today, there’s near continuous forest for hundreds of miles and much of it is filled with deer, a favorite food of mountain lions.

A few years ago a male cougar walked from his Black Hills home to Connecticut, where he was hit and killed by a car. Most Midwest states have documented the presence of cougars. A few have been hit by cars. More have been photographed by trail cameras put out by hunters to track deer movement.  Some have been shot. Seeing a live one is very rare.

So, a cougar sighting near Winding Pathways in Iowa is neither impossible nor surprising. It was probably a young male cat seeking a mate and place to live.

Do mountain lions pose a threat to people, livestock, or pets? Not really. There have been documented cougar attacks on people, mostly in California where they are not hunted and have lost fear of people, but the risk in most places is trivial. Cougars are shy animals that choose to stay out of sight and prefer eating deer to dogs, sheep, cattle, and cats.

We wish we’d seen the mountain lion that passed through our neighborhood but he’s probably miles away by now.

This is an independently researched column. No money or goods have been exchanged for this information.