Snow Woes

Our snow-cover got more dangerous for deer this week, just as we enter the most vulnerable time of year for the hoofed creatures. I can evaluate snow conditions when observing my dogs on their daily routine, which has been dramatically altered the past few weeks, deep, crusty snow complicating matters.

When I daily open the right side of the large double doors exiting my barn to the backyard, I am greeted by two, deep, manmade footpaths leading in a V toward the brook. One path goes left to the cook shed and kennel, the other straight ahead to the footing of an old, long-ago removed foot-bridge that once crossed the brook to pastures and orchards beyond. Following the lip of the eight-foot-high brook bank, a crossing footpath connects the two legs of the V to form a triangle before extending beyond the V’s right leg and onto my neighbor’s slim slice of brook bank graced by large sugar maples wedged between a sturdy stonewall and the stream.

For weeks my rambunctious English Springer Spaniels have been reluctant to leave the established backyard paths for good reason. Every time they’ve ventured out to explore, they’ve had to negotiate deep, cumbersome, icy snow that they obviously view as dangerous when slipping or breaking through … great news for deer. Why? Because, weighing between 40 and 50 pounds, my dogs and the average Eastern coyotes are about the same size. A wild coyote may be more agile, but not much more. So deductive reasoning tells me that the snow has not been ideal for coyotes chasing weakened winter deer.

That all changed Wednesday, the first day in weeks when my pets could freewheel atop the snow, be it running, prancing or walking; absolutely no sign of caution or trepidation for the first time in a month or more. That’s bad news for deer, which are now yarded up in large dormant herds typically bedded in wooded shelters with a couple of paths leading in and out of the bedding area, paths not unlike the ones traversing my snowed-in backyard. Coyotes will typically monitor such deer yards from the periphery, quickly recognizing, killing and eating any deer noticeably weakened by age, injury or malnutrition; but they cannot do serious damage and take down healthy deer without a little help from Mother Nature. Such help is now present, providing coyotes that hard crust they can run across. Problem is that deer cannot stay on top, instead breaking through with their hoofs, tiring quickly and becoming easy, pathetic prey.

Unconfirmed word out of Hampden — which has had significantly more snow than we have — is that snowmobilers last week came upon quite a natural deer slaughterhouse in the woods, with blood and body parts from several deer concentrated in a small area. Supposedly, game wardens were called to the scene and one was so appalled at the carnage that he opined there should be a bounty on coyotes. I hesitate to report such a story, but it came from a credible source I would not question, and even if I could get through to the wardens who visited the kill site, they would never admit to advocating a bounty. Such a comment would create a brushfire for superiors to extinguish, and they would not be happy. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely I’d ever get a chance to talk directly to the officers who responded to the call. Instead, I’d have to go through a state Office of Executive Affairs spokesperson, who would make a few calls, call me back and likely either
tell me the report could not be substantiated or confirm there was a deer-kill investigated without providing the officers’ names, definitely no spontaneous remarks made on the scene.

Fact is that there are many politically correct anti-hunters in this state who would not appreciate seeing such an “ignorant” comment from law enforcement in the paper, and they would scream bloody murder if such an irresponsible, inappropriate, hysterical call for bounties had been publicized. Thus the OEA filter was established several years ago to homogenize news, make life easy for state officials and miserable for scribes worth their salt.

All I can say is: take it for what it’s worth. You be the judge. And be certain that if, over the next few weeks, you decide to explore a forested southern exposure where deer typically yard, you will likely find similar, ugly, crimson horror shows. Yes indeed, balance of nature at its finest. The question is: Who keeps the coyote population in check?

The answer is few. Very few.

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