Photo Feedback

Winter is a time of random opportunity and peril in the wild kingdom, two realities that are vividly displayed by two reader correspondents who sent photos to my home last week.

The first photos arrived a week ago by snail-mail, displaying a big, live, hungry bear. The others came by email and showed a dead, devoured deer.

First, the bear, likely a big bruin in the 250- to 300-pound range. It is said that males are more apt than pregnant or nursing females to leave their dens in search of food during hibernating winter thaws, thus my assertion that it was a boar. Plus, it’s a big sucker.

Anyway, someone dropped the envelope containing three trail-camera photos of the black beast into my mailbox a week ago. On the envelope was scratched a handwritten note that read: “Gary, notice the date on these photos 1/24/18.” Likely from my neighborhood, I have an idea who provided them. It doesn’t matter. The photos do.

I must admit that when I read the envelope, I was not expecting bear photos. I assumed I had been sent photos of an antlered buck, given recent discussion about the timing of bucks shedding their antlers, a phenomenon that can differ greatly from deer to deer. But, no, it wasn’t an antlered buck at all, but rather this large bruin, patch of white snow on his rump from sitting, out and about on what was probably one of those foot-free spring-like days we all enjoyed following three weeks of deep-freeze. Check out the accompanying photo on Page D3. You’ll get a kick out of the white patch of snow on his butt.

I have to wonder if this wasn’t the same bear a man from up on top of the ridge south of my home wrote to me about a month or so back. This correspondent was bemused by a bear he had often seen coming to his birdfeeder when it should have been hibernating. He figured it was a big male, one he dissuaded from birdfeeder feedings by stinging its rump with a pumped-up BB gun.

The man was concerned that maybe the beast was injured, though it displayed no signs of a limp or disorientation. No, probably just a healthy bear living in a nearby den with knowledge that an unnatural food supply was available for easy picking.

As for the deer photos, they came from Brian Delaney, a Frontier Regional School teacher who came upon the gruesome scene walking his dog in West Deerfield. Tom and Ben Clark are OK with winter mortality of deer, browse foragers that eat fruit-tree buds, reducing the fall harvest. “Every bud they eat is one less apple,” son Ben told me one day when I was on a December cider run.

Delaney, took photos of the carnage scene with his cell phone and sent them my way when he got home.

“Just in from crispy morning hike with my young German shepherd down Old Albany Road,” he wrote. “Shayla sniffed out the deer-kill along a stream and I was surprised at its size. I first noticed many coyote tracks, then signs of a struggle or takedown. I took some pics, then noticed a left hind leg with a significant fracture that may have been the result of an automobile or train collision.”

He sent two photos of the torn-up deer carcass, a pathetic sight winter hunters, woodsmen, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers are apt to encounter. In Mother Nature’s game, such a deer’s demise is a coyote jackpot. Just the way it is.

“Thanks, Brian,” I wrote. “Mother Nature can indeed be cruel. Or is it not just harsh reality?”

He quickly responded with: “I go with the harsh reality of the big game called life.”

Enough said.

The preliminary numbers are in and 2017 Massachusetts deer hunters have already set an all-time harvest record with 13,220 kills. The archery (5,191) and primitive-firearm (2,754) also experienced record harvests. A breakdown of the rest of the seasons shows 109 kills on the one-day Sept. 30 youth hunt, four during the three-day (Nov. 2 through 4) paraplegic hunt and 5,162 shotgun kills. If the trends follow the norm, the final harvest numbers figure to only grow.

The previous record (12,249) was set in 2016.

The Bay State deer herd is estimated at 95,000. MassWildlife’s deer-density management goal is 10 to 15 per square mile. Some oversaturated eastern Mass. areas have densities reaching 80 per square mile. Thus, after decades of western Mass. carrying the total harvest during most of the 20th century, the tables have turned in the 21st and eastern Mass. hunters are bagging far more deer than folks in this neck of the woods, where the forests are bigger, the deer-densities thinner. Plus, because of better success rates in suburban areas, our hunter-density has significantly diminished. Central and eastern Mass. hunters are no longer traveling here to hunt deer. Why should they? Their chances are far better close to home.

It’s too early to evaluate and compare the zone-by-zone harvest breakdown. We’ll wait for the final harvest before going there.

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