Not my favorite year this time

What a strange deer season it was for so many Pennsylvania hunters.

Spring-like temperatures for the first week so warm the deer were lying tightly in the laurel. Aside from the usual hunter pressure and man smell and noise in the woods, they were not comfortable trying to feed or do anything else during the heat of the day because of their winter coats.

For the first deer season in my own many years of anticipation, I did not feel it this past opening day. I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to bag a deer because of the danger of harvesting an animal with Chronic Wasting Disease or in the county where I went to hunt, where they were having an epidemic of EHD or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. Quite a few deer were stricken with that malady just before deer season in Armstrong County. My hunting buddy Joanie Haidle found several on her own property prior to season and knew of many others being found.

The whole issue of these diseases hunt like a pall over most hunters. I didn’t get an antler less permit for Armstrong so all I could bag was a buck. The first group of five deer that sauntered by me had three bucks in it. One was a spike with only one antler, the other two looked like identical twins, having short, small fork horns. None of these were legal for me to shoot as that is a 4 points to a side management area.

So I did not get any venison this year and so will have to live on beans, I guess. I will surely miss the venison chops and tenderloins I so enjoyed but it is fine. Joanie did harvest a doe and so did her brother so I will not be meatless this year.

These concerns now turn to the extended after-Christmas seasons. As I look out at the snow falling, which we all wished for in deer season but did not have, how many will go out into the woods with muzzleloader or bow and arrow to seek a deer?

The second week of deer season turned so cold and windy, the deer were moving more on their own but who could stand around for long waiting for them? I did but had to bundle up in so many clothes I wondered if I could get my gun up if a deer came along. I saw more than a few hunters back in the vehicles in mid-morning hugging their thermoses of hot coffee.

Concern for all wildlife mounts if the cold and snow cover our landscape at the same time this winter. Many areas did not have a good crop of mast (acorns, nuts and berries) as Blair County did. It is when the snow crusts over that things get dicey for deer. They slip and slide, fall down and break legs and pelvises and suffers prolonged deaths.

Turkeys can walk on the ice and crusted snow but cannot dig down into it to get to acorns. They have to survive by finding bushes sticking out of the snow with barberry or other dried berries still hanging on them. But wild turkeys are hardy and can survive for days without food if they must.

Grouse like to dig back into the fluffy snow to form a burrow to sit in to wait out the winter but if the snow freezes, they sometimes cannot get out and just die in their icy tombs.

Sounds like a grim picture doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is: Survival. Bears are hibernating, oblivious to all the ugly weather outside. The rest have to struggle to find daily rations and they are scarce in the winter.

That is why the great conservation organizations like The Ruffed Grouse Society and The National Wild Turkey Federation and others spend so much time organizing fund-raising banquets and then donating so much man-power during the year to habitat improvement. Improving food and cover in wild creatures’ home territories is what carries them through if winters are tough.

It is the survival of wildlife through the winter that is so critical. It is why hunters are allowed to harvest excess populations of wildlife that would not survive a rough winter.

Add to all this the predators that are hungry, the coyotes, hawks, and free roaming farm dogs that chase deer until the deer are exhausted and then pull them down.

So while we languish beside our warm fireplaces, replenish our food supply at the store and anticipate Christmas, for wildlife it is just the beginning of a grueling season of survival.

But it is nature’s way of ensuring that the strong survive to pass on their genes. And spring will come. Already I can hear in my mind the urgent gobbling of spring gobblers.