The popularity of popple
After the close of last hunting season it was hard to find a deer hunter who didn’t complain about the low to non-existent deer sightings. If asked, I would have to agree with this assessment of deer numbers because after opening day I didn’t see a single tail anywhere on the farm I hunt. Does that mean the deer weren’t there? I really doubt it because I could have been hunting the wrong area of the farm, but honestly, none of the hunters on the property saw any deer either. Some blamed the weather, some blamed the previous year’s harsh winter while others blamed the coyotes.
As it turns out, none of these theories hold water because it seems deer are currently all over the place, and I can prove it. When spring approached my buddy Dave called and said, “I got a new trail camera for Christmas. Why don’t you bring yours and we’ll set them to see what’s up on the hill?”
“Not a bad idea,” I replied, “but while we’re there, bring up your chainsaw and we’ll cut down that big popple tree that blew down near ‘Sure Kill.’ It’s causing any deer approaching the pond to come from a direction I can’t get a shot.” Sure Kill is the name of one of my best bowhunting spots from which I think I’ve killed over a dozen deer. Cutting that tree would be a labor of love.
The popple was big, around two feet in diameter, and it just blew over, blocking one of the ways I approached my stand. More importantly, it interfered with normal deer movement in that location. It had to go.
With spring approaching, the tree had numerous small buds that were just beginning to emerge. I reasoned that, once cut, it would make a buffet no deer could pass up. Oak trees get the most notice as far as deer hunters are concerned and it’s a rare group of hunters who don’t discuss the annual acorn crop prior to the fall hunting season. But poplar buds play a key role in a deer’s diet and a downed popple tree will attract deer like a magnet attracts iron filings.
After we cut up the tree, Dave and I carefully dragged the branches to the field edge and piled them so a foraging deer could easily get between the limbs to nibble the hundreds of buds found on the ends. Since I brought several trail cameras, it didn’t take an Adirondack woodsman to figure out this would be a great place set the camera and see what showed up. A week later we found out.
When I opened the camera after a week on sentry duty, I couldn’t believe I had nearly 200 pictures of deer feeding on the popple buds. Granted, the overwhelming number of them most likely was of the same 10 or so deer, but the proof was irrefutable. The most amazing part was that the photos showed several bucks. One had lost his antlers, one six-point had only one antler, another six-point still had his full rack, as did a spike. Considering the photos were taken on March 15 and 18 it was, at least to me, an astonishing revelation. The deer were still around and still very much hungry. From the photos it appeared they made it through the winter in good condition and already I was feeling optimistic about this year’s archery season. Deer it seems are like people, nobody passes up an easy meal.