Sportsman’s Corner: Storm thoughts

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/25/2019 8:59:50 PM

When winter storms are predicted, this writer pays attention to the forecast for a number of reasons. Like most, the timing of needed travel and the clearing of my driveway with my new snowblower factor in as does the filling of bird feeders. Keeping the feeders full and making sure the suet is available is something that is done to help the wildlife that uses that food source in bad winter weather.

Late at night, however, my thoughts are with deer and turkeys. Both species can be impacted by certain winter weather conditions, particularly deep snow and an icy crust on the snow. Deer become vulnerable to canine predators, notably free-running dogs, when a crust forms and the predators can run on the top while the deer break through and flounder. When the forecast calls for freezing rain on snow cover, this is on my mind.

The deep snow also covers the common food sources such as hard mast like acorns and beech nuts. Deer eat buds and bark from limbs they can reach and cause problems in orchards as they strip fruit trees. All attempts to grow apple trees in my back yard have failed when deep snow comes. The deer are drawn there by the tall yews, which were once described to me by a deer biologist as “deer candy.” When other foods are not available, the evergreen yews provide some nutrition. Not great but enough to survive.

A few years ago, when we had that god-awful winter with ridiculously deep snow, three antlerless bucks spent every night in the yews, traveling through three-foot snow along a trail they made and survived to frustrate me the next fall.

MassWildlife addresses the topic of feeding wildlife in winter on the website. Each winter, MassWildlife receives inquiries from the public regarding whether or not to feed wildlife. While people have good intentions, supplemental feeding of wildlife typically does more harm than good. Most wildlife seasonally change their behavior to adapt to cold temperatures and scarce food supplies. Supplemental feeding can alter that behavior and have detrimental, and sometimes fatal, effects. Wildlife in Massachusetts have adapted over thousands of years to cope with harsh winter weather, including deep snow, cold temperatures and high winds. Supplemental feed sites congregate wildlife into unnaturally high densities, which can have a number of adverse effects including:

■ Attract predators and increase risk of death by wild predators or domestic pets.

■ Spread diseases among wildlife or cause other health issues (e.g. Rumen acidosis in deer, Aflatoxicosis in turkeys).

■ Cause aggression and competition over food, wasting vital energy reserves and potentially leading to injury or death.

■ Reduce fat reserves, as wild animals use energy traveling to and from the feeding site.

■ Cause wildlife to cross roads more frequently, therefore increasing vehicle collisions.

■ Negatively impact vegetation and habitat in areas where feeding congregates animals.

Providing wildlife with food at any time of year teaches them to rely on humans for food, which puts them at a disadvantage for survival and can lead to human/wildlife conflicts. Once habituated behavior is established, it can be very difficult or impossible to change.

The best way to help wildlife make it through the winter is to step back and allow the animals’ instincts to take over. To help wildlife near your home, focus on improving the wildlife habitat on or near your property, by including natural food and cover (e.g., some conifer cover and regenerating forest or brushy habitat). It is also important that wildlife populations are in balance with what the habitat can support.

As turkeys become more and more a focus of my thoughts, my concern for them is also that people feeding them concentrate the birds making them more likely to have problems. Deep snow is a problem, but they will seek out, like deer, southern facing slopes that open up and expose the food sources for the flock to feed on.

This week’s full moon would be great for serious coyote hunters. Predator hunting is allowed until midnight, but artificial lights are prohibited. Baiting is allowed and often butcher’s offal or other sources like a farmer’s dead chickens or other livestock will attract coyotes. You can also call and right now is the mating season so the wild canines are aggressive and will often respond and present an opportunity.

Finally, I would sadly note the passing of Paul Seamans. Paul wrote outdoor pieces right up to the end of his long life and was a real gentleman and very skilled wordsmith. He was wonderful storyteller and shared great moments from his long life with readers of the Greenfield Recorder. He will be missed. I must also note that Erma LaBonte recently passed away. In my youthful days at the army tent in New Hampshire where her husband Joe LaBonte and many of my father’s friends made a deer camp, her baked goods were always the first thing to disappear!

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