Not diggin’ it

Wintry weather not always kind to wild animals

There is no doubt that this winter so far has been tough on wildlife.

Digging food out from under this kind of snow and ice is a tough task for deer, turkeys, right on down to mice. However, there have been a few times of moderate weather, and animals took advantage of that to scrounge for food in open patches.

No doubt the Game Commission has felled many small trees to provide browse for deer. Deer are primarily browsers, and so this is the best food that can be naturally provided in scarce times.

Also no doubt there have been many winter-killed animals. Those will be the weakened ones and the smallest ones. Perhaps Mother Nature is purging the deer herd in her natural way, to take out the sick and weak, such as those with CWD and EHD, a disease running rampant in counties other than ours. The walking surveys conducted by Game Commission employees during the very early spring will tell us the tale.

Bears, of course are tucked away in their dens, pretty much oblivious of the weather conditions outside their dens. Most will be nursing and grooming cubs, which are born in January and February. Despite a very good bear harvest this past season, there are still too many bears in the state, the Game Commission says, so you can expect a lot of bears becoming nuisances when early spring does arrive.

Trapping and transferring of such bears becomes an onerous job for the wildlife professionals. You see, there is not any good bear habitat in the state that does not already have more bears than it should have, so where do all the trapped bears get released?

I’ve mentioned before in this column about the time many years ago that I was driving along a highway when I just happened to spot in a restaurant parking lot a Game Commission vehicle with a barrel trap hooked on behind. I knew exactly what this meant, so I turned my car around and headed back.

As I suspected I saw two Game Commission officers inside having lunch together. I boldly walked over to them, introduced myself and began to ask them questions. It was quite a story.

It seems that a game warden from Northern Pennsylvania had a bear that needed to be relocated. Unbeknownst to him, a game warden from Southern Pennsylvania also had a bear that he had trapped and now had to be relocated. They didn’t know about each other until they got on the road with their bears, each heading in the other’s direction.

They located each other by radio and made arrangements to meet at a certain restaurant for lunch, and that’s where I came in. I was just passing by. As it all turns out, the northern guy was heading to the southern guy’s county. And the southern guy was headed for the northern guy’s county to loose his bear.

It was one of the funniest things I had ever heard of. My original column I wrote about this incident was entitled, “Playing Musical Bears.” I wondered why they didn’t just exchange bears in the parking lot, and then each could go back home with a different bear. It would save a lot of time and gas money, I thought. And maybe after I left, they did do that; I don’t know. But the memory of such a ridiculous situation has kept me chuckling for many years.

The situation with nuisance bears is much worse these days, and I’ll bet this spring will be a humdinger for bear complaints.

Will the winter-killed deer be examined for CWD? I don’t know, but it seems likely.

In the meantime, old Phil is snug in his box probably smirking about having put one over on all of us by predicting an early spring.

As is usually the case, one of the biggest means of deer kill in such snowy surroundings is free-roaming dogs. Some of these will be dogs dropped off by someone who no longer wanted them. But most of the times it is people’s pets, let outside for a time by their owners, who feed them Purina and let them sleep inside. Often, these folks simply do not believe that their Fido would chase a deer to death. But it is a common occurrence in the winter woods.

Once I was out hiking during a winter thaw when I heard dogs barking. Soon I spotted a deer running, tongue drooping, with six dogs behind it. The deer would sink down in the snow, breaking through the icy crust, which was melting, sprawling on its stomach, then struggling up to run a bit farther.

I quickly found a tree and shimmied up it like a woolrich-clad squirrel because I knew the dogs would not look favorably upon me if they spotted me. I sat in that tree for an hour watching that pack of dogs chase that deer in circles.

I did not witness the dogs killing the deer, but I have no doubt they did. It is a cruel and ugly death when dogs finally catch up to an exhausted deer that can go no longer. I spare you those details.

Mother Nature is not kind to animals. In the woods, one animal preys upon the other in order to live. Every year, hunters run across the skeletons or other bones of animals in the woods, victims of either predators or weather or perhaps even a hunter who did not find them.