Deer starving to death; better management needed

By JEFF NORTH,

I have no idea what the weather is like when this print arrives at your doorstep. At the time of this writing, however, the first real push from the north has arrived and moved on through the gulf towards the Caribbean. I don’t think any mallards arrived with this welcomed front, but I’m sure they will be close behind.

The drought as of lately has been horrific, to say the least. Cattle producers need the moisture to germinate the small seeded grains of rye. Lakes and ponds need the water to stay at full pool. Every deer hunter across the region wishes and prays for a soaker to sprout the plot mixes that have been so carefully sowed. Of course, I am hoping for another month of Indian summer so harvest can be completed. I suppose I shouldn’t worry about the weather for it’s completely out of our control.

Up to this point, it has been a joy to watch the harvest. Crop yields are good, but we have a long way to go and time will tell if we get it out. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a bountiful harvest take place. Riding a cotton picker across snow white fields is quite the treat and an opportunity that most don’t get to be a part of. This year is no exception. It is hard to describe how gorgeous this crop is unless you are in the middle of it.

Alas though, there are problems around the perimeter of many fields. Deer have absolutely decimated the crop in many areas around the edges. In fact, they have ventured several hundred yards into the crops in many places. Soybeans and corn have been wiped out and they are eating everything on the cotton plants from stems, to leaves, to bolls. I have even noticed where they are eating the lint and seed out of the open burrs. To put this into perspective, the deer in many places, are starving to death!

I have spoken to several bowhunters and they have brought to my attention that many of the deer they are seeing are in poor condition. Hunters have reported seeing does without fawns. Body weights are down, and rib cages are noticeably exposed. Keep in mind, this is not just in the areas that were so adversely affected by the backwater flooding either. No, this is occurring in what is known as some of the best wildlife habitat in the state. Whether we want to admit it or not, our Mississippi deer herd is spiraling out of control in many parts of the state and they are eating themselves out of house and home. So why is this happening and are there solutions to this dilemma?

The primary reason we are in this crisis is because we, as hunters, are not doing our job to help manage our whitetail population. We all love to watch deer. We tend to think we can stockpile the resource like putting money in the bank. Human nature wants to have more and more and bigger and bigger. This philosophy doesn’t work when it comes to taking care of the whitetail deer. Our soils will only produce so much food for wildlife. Just like pastures will only support so many cattle, so it is with our woodlands supporting deer. Wildlife biologists have been recommending harvest management for decades to keep the herd healthy and strong. It is to the point now that I’m not sure if we can ever get our population to where it needs to be to sustain a healthy herd. We are all guilty of not doing what needs to be done, including myself. Of course, this takes work to accomplish what needs to be done. Most of us don’t want to come in after dark, day after day, and clean deer. Not that long ago it was easy to find someone who would take the harvest for the venison. With the recent publicity of diseases affecting deer, primarily chronic wasting disease (CWD), it’s difficult to even find someone who will take them now. This will only compound the problem, for most will soon tire of the chore of harvesting and processing.

Someone asked me the other day about the products available to feed and supplement deer. It is uncanny how many wildlife feed products are on the market. Literally hundreds of manufacturers bring options to the hunter every year. This is a huge business generating billions of dollars. This opens another can of worms. Due to chronic wasting disease, it is illegal to feed deer in many parts of the state. The logic of not feeding deer in these areas is to prevent congregating and exposure of perhaps an infected animal to those that are healthy. If this works, then why wouldn’t we stop feeding in other areas before CWD becomes an issue? In other words, if we know that congregating deer can lead to possible infection, then why not be proactive and stop it before the problem worsens? Of course, what does a food plot do? It still concentrates deer, so should this practice also be stopped? Should there be a stop sale on feed and supplements? Ahh, now it’s getting to the nitty gritty! If it is illegal to use these products shouldn’t it be illegal to sell them also? That’s like saying it’s ok to sell cocaine but you can’t use it. Wow, you see how deep this really is now.

So what should we do? I don’t know, but I trust our biologists to make sound decisions based on science. They know far more about game management, specifically the whitetail deer, than the public, hunters, and politicians with their own agendas. If you care about the future of hunting and the whitetail deer, I encourage you to not only listen to our biologists but also implement their strategies for the benefit of both man and nature. Hopefully, the resource will remain strong and the enjoyment of what is so dear to so many of us will be here for generations to come. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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