Watching the deer and wondering

I recently had the opportunity to observe a group of deer
feeding undisturbed through the forest.  I watched these deer for
nearly an hour as they meandered here and there. I’m always
interested in what the deer are eating, and as a hunter, you should
be, too.

Our acorns are long gone. As I observed with binoculars, the deer
reached high over their heads to eat hemlock boughs. It is somewhat
thick where I was watching, so sometimes I couldn’t see the entire
deer, but I sure could see the hemlock branches moving as they
ripped off the tiny, soft needles. They were also actively browsing
on rhododendron leaves.  From what I know about deer, both of these
plants are usually considered late winter survival foods. So why
were the deer eating them this early?

Statewide, we had what everyone considered a good acorn crop last
fall, but locally, where I live and often hunt  in Centre County,
I’d rate the mast crop only average.  Browse is still limited, but
beginning to recover in some areas. Since we don’t have snow cover
the deer can still feed on clover hay fields and waste corn.

Just like everyone else, I like to see lots of deer when I’m
hunting. I didn’t get a buck last fall, but after watching those
deer, I’m wondering: are there still too many deer for the habitat
where I hunt?

As I watched, the deer, in addition to feeding, were reducing food
that would be available for next winter. If the deer are eating
rhododendron and hemlock in late December, what are they going to
eat in early March?

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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