The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

New Neighbors have moved into town; Herds of Deer everywhere


March 7, 2018

It seems everyone in town is taking pictures of their new neighbors. The deer have come into town in search of food. They’re eating bushes, which probably need trimming anyway. We know how we are faring, but how are the wildlife doing? Are they starving? What does winter do to our neighbors?

Retired Montana state game warden, Sgt. Gary Benson said we are losing some deer due to the snow depth and the hardness of the snow. Usually a deer can break through the snow by pawing at the ground to get to the grass below. This year the snow is deep, it’s thawed, then rained on which froze, then snowed some more with strong winds. “Deer can’t break through to the forage. It’s so crusty”. Deer simply move less during frigid temperatures to conserve much needed calories which can be the difference between survival and starvation. Nutritious food is scarce during the winter and the deer’s metabolism actually slows down significantly to help retain energy needed to keep the body warm. According to Gary “they can tear the hell out of a hay stack”, which we all know.

In the winter antelope eat Forbes, fleshy plants, like sagebrush. They will also eat Russian Olive trees and alfalfa if they can break through the snow. They will move into town and eat bushes, but by then they are already starving and most will die. People are tempted to try and feed them, but they won’t eat. In fact, “it is illegal to deliberately feed them and a lot of the time it just won’t help them”. Most die if all they eat is hay due to the necessary requirements of their digestive system.

Pheasants will scratch down to the ground to find wheat on the ground. You will find them around grain bins and out in fields. They can actually scratch down creating deep holes in the snow before they get to the ground. They will also fly into the Russian Olive trees and Junipers and eat the berries.

Raccoons and skunks don’t hibernate but they will sleep a long time. They place leaves and grass in their dens to insulate them for the cold winters months. They also eat a lot in the fall preparing for winter months. Raccoons store their fat in their tails. It is not surprising to discover they lose 50% of their body weight during a difficult winter.

Coyotes actually do well in the winter because they are faster on the snow then those they eat, unless they have mange. Coyotes with manage will die during difficult winters.


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