No throw in the fact that the autumn acorn mast was meager and gone in short but non-fattening up order!
On the other hand, our grasses were green into December during a mild autumn that offset the stingy hard nut situation.
The challenge now lays squarely between the remaining winter weather and the deer’s ability to eek it out.
We can’t do much about the weather but deer management can do something about the health and condition of the deer or more simply put their ability to survive the winter.
Judging by the recent gun buck kill in the 60,000-plus range, the herd is in pretty good balance with its habitat.
Hunters may still be longing for those record West Virginia populations and kills of more than 100,000 since the gun buck harvest is the leading index for the statewide herd. But, it’s during winter survival times like these that the habitats and deer are better served by healthier herds of lower magnitude. Massive winter die-offs with equally big habitat destruction and consumption would occur.
Per past overpopulations of deer, “ancestral” damage to wintering areas such as spruce-pine-rhododendron and fir thickets can cause yet unborn deer to perish decades later. You can see examples of this at Canaan Valley State Park’s browse-lined evergreen thickets.
Prior to about the New Millennium, it seemed that our deer herd had no upper limits or means of control. A major killing winter early in the 2000s, an outbreak of EHD (blue-tongue) later in that decade and an ever expanding coyote, bobcat and black bear predator base have all chimed into to trim down the herds.
That’s not to mention DNR’s deer managers throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them.
That prescription called for the taking of more female deer via early and late youth hunts, the Christmas or family season and the allowance of the widespread taking of antlerless deer during the formerly two-week bucks only season.
All these factors in the collective along with a return of more seasonable winters are causing for the mostly stable prevailing herd.
As for the New Year chill of 2010, the deer are game for their latest challenge and won’t be going down without a fight.