Crisis in Northwoods Deer Yards; Inadequate Hunts, Deep Snows, & Frigid Temps Lead to Certain Starvation
This is a picture of a Deer Yard, notice the well pruned trees up as high as a deer can reach and lack of young seedlings. Generally when the snows get too deep for deer to travel they will yard up in a place like this.
The canopy of the Hemlocks in this photo create what we call thermal cover which is generally 10-20 degrees warmer than in the open or in a hardwood forest.
Unfortunately unless there is a clear cut right next to one of these deer yards, the meager vegetation within the yard will be exhausted quickly and the deer will be forced to choose between standing for several months trying to conserve the fat that they accumulated in the fall or spend precious calories fighting through the deep snow to seek possible food elsewhere.
Notice the seedling to the left here, was chewed clean of all buds and small twigs about the time the snow was 1 foot deep, and all the smaller seedlings in the background will likely never get past the height of the snow either.
As tempting as it is to go out to this site now to get a few shots in the winter, as a Wildlife Biologist, I know that everytime that someone happens upon one of these death camps, it further stresses the occupants further and leads to fewer of the residents surviving the cold winter.
There are a few solutions to this horrible problem that the deer encounter every winter.
- Monitor and control Population Dynamics, in lay terms that means, less deer in the fall means more food remaining per deer to last the winter.
- Encourage more hunting, pruning half the herd with hunters is infinitely more humane than watching 3/4 of the herd die of starvation and disease.
- Don't feed hay to starving deer, they will eat it but they cannot digest it this time of year, it may make them feel full but they will still die.
- Create more clearcuts, especially next to conifer stands. Clearcuts produce dense twigs and branches that are perfect winter food for deer. Deer need easily accessible food, they cannot afford to climb through a half mile of deep snow to get the calories that they need to survive.
Woodland Management Service
- Deer yard in Waupaca County
- Deer browsed seedling Waupaca County
- Aspen Clearcut next to Red Pine Stand, Oneida County.