Winter to Winter

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A few months ago this young deer survived thanks to nourishment from its mother. Now it must work for its food, which provides much less nourishment than its mother’s milk.
A few months ago this young deer survived thanks to nourishment from its mother. Now it must work for its food, which provides much less nourishment than its mother’s milk.
Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen
Contribiting Writer

What are deer doing now, while we complain about winter? While we feel a little chilly? While we turn up the heat or light up some logs in the fireplace? While we cover ourselves with a blanket while enjoying a good read or a favorite television show? While we munch on a bag of chips or a venison stick with the taste last of season’s success? As long as we can pay the bills for modern comforts of adequate heat, easy food, and running water, we can survive winter — even if it lasts until Labor Day.

Admit it — unless you have seasonal affective disorder or a disability, winter really isn’t that hard. It’s not nearly as hard as it is for wildlife. Winter can be a very tough time for deer, and they don’t complain. At this time of year every bite of food takes effort. Then they find a place to bed down away from bitter winter winds. In the coldest weather and the deepest snow they hunker down for longer periods and conserve energy stored as fat from a feeding frenzy on last fall’s acorns.

In the middle of winter, life is anything but a frenzy for whitetail deer. The name of their game right now is moving only when necessary and avoiding stress. The reason they try to bed near food sources isn’t the same reason you want the refrigerator nearby. For you, it’s convenience. For deer, it’s so they spend less energy filling their stomachs. They eat, they groom, and they look for a safe place to bed, unaware that they face two more months of winter.

The days are now lengthening — already 40 minutes longer than on the winter solstice just a month ago. We notice because it’s not yet dark as we drive home from work. Deer are taking advantage of that extra light, because longer daylight means easier management of body heat. With the sun in the sky longer it’s to their advantage to be on their feet before sunset. You see them coming out of woodlots to paw for the nourishment that lies buried under a carpet of white.

In a mild winter such as we’re having thus far (let’s keep our fingers crossed), deer don’t spend much effort to get food. That’s another reason we’re seeing them in the last hour of daylight. If it were colder and snowier deer would be forced to move less because they would be forced to eat less. For them, winter is about balancing food intake with the energy they spend to get it. That helps their fat stores last until spring.

We might still get some blizzards, and if weather forces deer to areas such as hemlock or other cover to escape the deep snow, winter will get much harder. They will subsist on low hanging twigs and evergreen needles.

So what are the benefits of an easy winter? For the does it means their fawns will be born with heavier body weights. For those fawns it means better survival rates and faster growth. For the bucks it means bigger and stronger antlers in the fall.

Life for deer is winter to winter, and the better condition deer are in at the end of the winter, the better prepared they’ll be when the following winter arrives.

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.