Ask The Biologist

Good Intentions

Good Intentions

By Bob Humphrey

Feeding deer in winter seems like a good idea, but it has serious consequences.

QUESTION: I recently purchased a home in the Gettysburg/Littlestown, Pa. area on 2.74 wooded acres. There are many deer in this area and I have been feeding them shelled corn. I have not been hunting them. I wish to maintain their health and growth through the winter months and possibly take one this Fall (2016), most likely a mature doe unless a monster buck steps up. The doe/buck ratio appears to be extremely out of balance. What do you recommend feeding them through winter so I do not negatively affect their growth and health? — Jerry

ANSWER: Apologies for not getting to your question sooner but that’s the nature of our system. Winter feeding can be a slippery slope that most state biologists discourage going down. If you feel compelled to feed, corn is not necessarily a bad thing to feed deer in the winter, provided you follow certain guidelines.

One is to begin feeding early — before winter sets in and their digestive system transitions over to a diet of mostly coarse, woody browse. If you wait too long, corn could shock their system, making it more difficult for them to digest what constitutes most of their winter diet, even where they receive supplemental feed. It could even prove fatal.

The second is to continue feeding throughout the winter. They will soon get conditioned to, and possibly become dependent on, your food. Stopping too soon could have disastrous results.

You should also consider things like proximity to roads and other houses. Attracting deer near roads increases the likelihood of car-deer collisions. The deer may also glean your neighbor’s shrubs and will certainly impact any hardwood regeneration in the area. Furthermore, the deer may be more susceptible to stress and injury from neighborhood dogs.

Feed if you must, but you’d be far better off planting something that will persist through much of the winter like brassicas or winter wheat. You might also consider a pelletized mix with more protein but again, start early and don’t stop until green-up.

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Copyright 2016 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

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