The leaves are starting to fall and the lowest parts of the farm were solidly frosted last night so all signs point to fall. Hopefully your animals are well on their way to finishing nicely, your buyers are lined up or your cleaning out the final bits and pieces of last year’s meat out of the freezer for dinner. One of the best parts of owning or leasing land this time of the year is that you can hunt on it. Most hunters have to pay to hunt on other’s land or are forced to take their chances on our states overcrowded and overgunned wildlife management areas. Most farmers I know love to hunt and I suspect it helps us all to ease the transition from the beautiful bounty of fall to the wet leavelessness of early winter.
There is nothing like being in nature during those twilight hours watching the forest transition towards or away from the day. This is especially true when accompanied into the forest by a friend or beginning hunter. I am happy to bring others hunting on my land or to allow more experienced peers access to certain areas to utilize for their hunt, and although I used to support it on my property, the one thing that I have stopped doing is predator hunting on my land. Over the years I have been able to witness the ebb and flow of different animals on the property depending on the yearly weather patterns. When it is warm with little snow like last year, there is an abundance of rabbits and voles on the property. This attracts and feeds many different raptors and coyotes on the ranch. When there are more difficult winters there ends up being less prey for the predators and their numbers tend to wane, but every year is different and if we have a lot of snow the predators are able to coral the deer and have an easier time picking them off.
I enjoy watching the coyotes and I suspect that they play an integral part in the overall health of the farm. I have come to delight in being in the pitch black and hearing the coyotes, unaware of my presence, yipping and playing their way across the open fields. I have never lost a calf to a coyote and I suspect that most that are taken were not very thrifty to begin with. I have twice witnessed my mature cows chasing off coyotes and foxes with great gusto and also caught them killing a groundhog late last summer. It seems like a waste of life and resources to shoot our predators for sport and the philosophy does not fit into my holistic management ideals. The real troublemakers on the farm are the deer, and if we do not continue our research and management of these animals, our forests and our land will continue to suffer.
A little over a century ago there were so few deer that just finding some tracks was a cause for excitement. One hundred years of management, combined with the development of our dense tracts of forests into dense tracts of suburban transitional lands, has led to an explosion in the deer population in all areas east of the Mississippi. In a recent article in Cool Green Science titled “Too Many Deer: A Bigger Threat to Eastern Forests than Climate Change”, Allen Pursell argues that the deer population is having a greater impact on our forests then climate change. The reason for this is simple overgrazing. The deer have free range of many areas and, because of sheer number, they are in competition with one another for their favorite browse. This means that all the best browse is being overgrazed and eventually outcompeted by other plants and shrubs, a process that makes the forest less diverse and less healthy. The overgrazing also impacts other species such as birds that make their nests in the understory plants that are being wiped out.
One way that we can all work to heal the forest is to harvest some of the deer to get them back to sustainable numbers. Most hunters are in agreement with this, but when they realize that without proper management success is not likely, some hunters recant their support. There are also those who feel that hunting is cruel and unnecessary. I will never understand this argument in light of our modern and rapid methods of dispatching prey. Not only do we get to spend time observing nature, we also harvest a bounty of clean meat or the lively tale of the one that got away.
So instead of shooting the coyotes, who under the right snow conditions will harvest their fair share of the weak deer from herds this winter, harvest your share of legal deer and help to control the population while at the same time feeding you and your family one hundred percent grass fed meat.