Punxsutawney Phil was wrong again. I could say “I told you so,” but I have sympathy for Phil because he can’t win. If he doesn’t predict an early spring, people get mad at him. If he does forecast a quick end to winter people are happy, but then turn mad with the next snowstorm.
Contrary to Phil’s prophecy, winter still has its icy grip on Pennsylvania, New York, and plenty of other places. When he made his Groundhog Day prediction I was in Billings, Montana where the temperature was minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit. As I write this the high temp in Billings in is negative territory. No matter how cold it is there, the good Billings folk simply carry on.
People perennially complain about deep snow and cold temperatures, but I doubt deer ever say, “When will this crusty snow melt so I can get at those acorns?” Nor do turkeys say, “If this wet snow doesn’t stop, my beard is going to rot!”
Like the denizens of Billings, deer and turkeys and all the rest of the animals that cope with the weather just carry on. And the groundhog — he’s curled up in his burrow with a grin on his face, content with a body temperature in the low 40s. That’s all the heat his minimal bodily functions require. What does it matter to him whether spring comes in mid-February? Or right on schedule at the spring equinox? Or not until tax day? Despite our hullabaloo about Phil and his hibernating cohorts, spring is of little concern to groundhogs. Whenever spring comes, the boys will exit their burrows looking for the girls. None of them will know they slept a week or two longer.
Most hunters, however, are thinking about the deer. In the far north bigger bodied deer are more likely to survive, but extended cold weather can affect deer anywhere. For the bucks a late spring will mean a delay in the start of antler growth. That may mean smaller antlers this fall — especially if sparse winter food supplies mean bucks start the antler growing season in a weakened condition.
The weather will have different effects on the does. They need optimum nutrition for full fetal development of their fawns. A delayed spring may mean low birth weights, which could mean fewer juvenile fawns reach breeding age in the fall. For young bucks, lower birth weights mean their first set of antlers will probably be smaller — though we won’t see evidence of that until the next fall.
As for turkeys, winter is one reason the big birds here in northwest Pennsylvania and western New York tend to be lighter than those farther south where they don’t cope with three months of snow cover. Birds weighing 25 pounds occur here occasionally, but around Pittsburgh and in states farther south they’re more common.
Snow cover means turkeys have to work longer and harder to feed, so it’s no wonder southern birds tend to be heavier than northern birds. We get heavier too when food comes easy to us and we stay at the table longer.
Extended snow cover can also weaken turkeys and deer, and make them more vulnerable to predators. Coyotes, foxes and other carnivores start eating better as winter drags on.
Long winters bring wildlife mortality, but most animals suffer without complaint. Humans are softer, I suppose. We don’t go hungry, but we do complain until the daffodils bloom and the grass turns green.
March is fickle. It teases us and disappoints us. Then again, maybe it’s humans who are fickle. We long for warmer weather now, but next thing you know we will complain about the heat.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.