It’s simply safer to let deer find their own food


My hunting buddy from Armstrong County recently called me to tell me about finding a dead deer by her front pond.

She went out to examine it, saw it had not been shot so she called the local game protector who came out and examined it. As Joanie and the game warden suspected, it had died a natural death from a stomach full of shelled corn that had impacted in its stomach, fermented and killed it.

It is one thing for deer to eat some standing corn, when they have to eat it ear by ear, stripping it off the cob. It’s a much slower process than finding a huge pile of corn just dumped somewhere by a well-meaning person who throws it out.

The deer then gorge on that corn, gulping it down in great mouthfuls. Later many of them die of the after effects of such gorging when their weakened digestive system simply cannot deal with the amount of corn stuffed into the stomach.

The game warden, Joanie and I all felt really sad after seeing that deer, dead in the prime of its life. What a waste, although, it sill sustained some coyote, crows vultures and whatever predator finds it first.

Deer are primarily browsers, preferring leaves from young trees to anything else. Some corn mixed with browse is something they can survive but a stomach full of corn is simply too much for their bodies to withstand.

So far this has been a very mild winter, as far as wildlife survival is concerned. Deer don’t really need supplemental feeding at this point. Now if we should have deer, sustained snow and ice and deer are threatened with hunger, the Pennsylvania Game Commission goes back into the woods with its machinery and cuts down saplings so that deer can browse on them.

I saw this past week that someone I admire — if not envy — won an award for her tireless work as a biologist with the PGC.

NWTF update

The National Wild Turkey Federation annually recognizes outstanding contributions in wild turkey management by individuals, agencies and organizations in a variety of categories during the organization’s national convention.

Pennsylvania Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena was recently selected by the NWTF as the recipient of the organization’s Henry S. Mosby Award, which recognizes an outstanding biologist who has contributed to wild turkey management throughout their career, or has made a single significant accomplishment in the restoration or management of wild turkeys. Mosby’s research during the mid-1900s set the standard for wild turkey management.

Casalena accepted her award at the NWTF’s 44th Annual Convention and Sport Show in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 15.

“This award is a really big deal,” Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said. “Mary Jo continues to use the latest technology and techniques to manage this popular big-game species. I’m thrilled to say I was in attendance to see her accept this prestigious award and am proud of her many accomplishments,” he said.

Casalena’s accomplishments as a turkey biologist for the Game Commission are many. Her primary focus has been regulating turkey hunting seasons and bag limits through research to maintain healthy populations in the state. For example, from 2010-14, she and her aides monitored the incubation-initiation dates of turkey hens fitted with satellite-transmitters, which resulted in setting the spring gobbler season opening day as the Saturday closest to May 1 when most of the hens are on the nest.

Casalena, in addition to being a member of her local NWTF chapter the Juniata Gobblers, is actively involved in the National Technical Committee, the Northeast Upland Bird Technical Committee, the Game Commission Wildlife Management Unit 5A Turkey Task Force, and she routinely attends Pa. NWTF meetings to provide updates on harvests, population trends and research.

“I feel extremely honored to receive the Henry S. Mosby Award,” Casalena said. “Never did I imagine I’d be in the ranks of past recipients, many of whom have been my mentors since I became the wild turkey biologist for the Game Commission in 1999. I credit my winning the award to my colleagues at the Game Commission, NWTF and the Pa. Chapter NWTF, who have all worked diligently to advance wild turkey research and management in Pennsylvania with application across the U.S.”

The NWTF said Casalena’s track record with wild turkey management made her truly deserving of the award.

“We are fortunate to have individuals like Mary Jo who dedicate their lives to the conservation of wildlife and habitat,” NWTF CEO Becky Humphries said. “We are proud to honor her with this award and look forward to her continued support for the wild turkey in Pennsylvania,” she added.

I have long followed and admired Caselena’s work with the PGC. She’s just a little slip of a woman but she knows her stuff. I mentioned I was envious to have her job. But back when I was of age to enter college, no woman would have been accepted onto the staff of the Commission as a biologist.

I’m just so honored to have gotten to know her so many years later and to admire her so and enjoy reading her reports and writings about wild turkeys.

Congratulations Mary Jo — you surely do deserve it!