When hard-crusted snow covers the ground, wildlife have a tough time finding food. Deer in particular have trouble finding suitable forage. As such, many well-meaning folks put out bagged corn or grain. While commendable as it appears, their graciousness is only harming the species.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, artificially feeding deer in the winter is the best way to kill a large number of deer in a small area in a short time. The problem, says the PGC, is that a deer’s diet cannot be rapidly changed in winter without damage to its digestive system.
Deer, they say, have a four compartment stomach that relies on microbes for digestion. The types of microbes change gradually in early winter to digest woody browse and again in spring to digest green vegetation.
Illnesses such as acidosis and enterotoxemia often result when the winter diet is suddenly switched to simpler, more digestible carbs like corn or grain. Enterotoxaemia occurs when these carbs cause bacteria to bloom in the deer’s digestive system. This bacteria is beneficial during normal feeding events, but too much releases a neurotoxin that is absorbed into the blood which results in death, as explained in a PGC booklet.
A prime example of this was explained to friends, who at one time resided outside Pennsville in Northampton County. What appeared to be a dying button buck that hung close to their house, necessitated a call to the local WCO for Northampton County. After addressing the visibly infected yearling that was apparently wounded during the hunting season, the WCO recalled being summoned to a home to pick up a young dead deer that was lying atop a corn pile.
This goes to explain that it takes a deer time and energy to convert to new microorganisms, like that found in bag corn and grain. During that time, it uses precious fat reserves that could have been spared if the deer had fed continually on natural winter browse, says the agency.
The PGC points to studies that have shown that deer can die from feeding on highly digestible, high energy, low fiber feed such as corn in winter. This rapid exposure to a concentrated grain diet can cause a fatal disruption of the animal’s acid base balance. Deer that survive the immediate effects of “grain overload,” often die in the days or weeks that follow, due to secondary complications of the disease.
Evidently this is what happened to the deer found atop the corn pile. And young deer are more susceptible since they are the last ones to feed after the larger, older, stronger deer eat first.
Another point the PGC makes is that supplemental feeding sometimes congregates deer in unnatural densities. Luring large numbers of deer in a small area could create a risk for spreading CWD, tuberculosis and in wild turkeys that feed on “deer corn.”
The PGC concludes that supplemental deer feeding during hard winter months increases the winter death rate by 25-42 percent. They recommend planting certain trees, bushes and maintaining autumn food plots instead. That, and felling firewood trees in late winter puts deciduous tree-tops where deer can reach them.
To read more on the subject check “Winter Feeding of Deer and Turkey,” a 26-page document available on the PGC’s website www.pgc.state.pa.us. Click on “Wildlife” on the left, then scroll down to the “Wildlife Reference Guides” section to view the digital booklet.
Even if you’re not a skier or snowboarder, dress warmly and take the family to experience a Winter Wonderland at Blue Mountain Resorts’ Winter Fest, sponsored by REI & Valley Central.
The event will take place at the Summit Lodge, towards the top of Pennsylvania’s highest vertical, on Saturday, January 26th from 10am-6pm and Sunday, January 27th from 10-2pm, weather permitting. The Winter Festival is a free event and open for all ages to enjoy.
“This seasonal extravaganza will feature the ice carving talents of Sculpted Ice Works, Snowga-yes, yoga on the snow, snow shoe demonstrations, and snowmaking tours! Delicious food options, including Waffle Cabin and Slopeside Pub & Grill’s new mouth-watering menu & signature drinks, will be available for purchase,” says Tricia Matsko, Blue Mountain marketing manager.
In addition to the event, the USA Olympic Luge team will be hosting the 2019 Luge Challenge from 11am-5pm on Saturday and from 10am-2pm on Sunday. Guests can experience the rush of the Winter Games by riding a luge on the only natural, East Coast USA Luge track that is open to the public. USA Luge Coaches will be on-site to evaluate each luge run and will be scouting for potential athletes.
Grab a seat and tilt your head back at approximately 6pm on Saturday evening for a spectacular Winter Fest firework display by Skyshooter Displays, ZY Pyrotechnics.
Blue Mountain’s 39 trails, 16 lifts and up to 39 tubing lanes are available for regular price during the event from 8am-10pm on Saturday and 8am-9pm on Sunday. And there’s always a lot of free parking.
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) released its 11th annual Whitetail Report, a comprehensive update on the status of white-tailed deer including deer harvest trends through the 2017-18 season, the most recent hunting season with complete deer harvest data available from most whitetail states and Canadian provinces.
QDMA’s report reflects a lot of what we recently reported here in my column entitled “Local deer take survey shows lots of 8-pointers taken.”
Overall, the national buck harvest was on the rise while antlerless harvest fell, tipping the balance in favor of bucks for the first time in 18 years.
“The total antlered buck harvest of 2,879,000 in the United States was 2 percent more than the previous season, and 23 of 36 states increased their buck harvest,” said Kip Adams, QDMA Director of Conservation. “On the contrary, antlerless harvest was down slightly to 2,827,288. One state’s data did not arrive and was not included in this analysis, but it appears the national buck harvest exceeded the antlerless harvest in the 2017-18 season for the first time since 1998.”
Looking at the age structure of the buck harvest, yearlings (1? years old) remained at record low harvest levels around 35 percent while harvest of 3?-year-old and older bucks remained high at 34 percent.
“It’s amazing to realize that one of every three antlered bucks shot in the U.S. is at least 3? years old when it was one in every five only 15 years before,” said Adams.
Among other facts to be found in the new Whitetail Report:
* 66 percent of deer taken in the 2017-18 season were killed with a firearm compared to 23 percent with a bow and 10 percent with a muzzleloader.
* An average of 41 percent of deer hunters were successful, and 15 percent shot more than one deer.
* In harvest per square mile, Maryland hunters shot the most antlerless deer while Michigan hunters shot the most bucks.
* New Jersey hunters had over half of their total deer harvest in the freezer prior to opening day of their firearms season, while Minnesota hunters shot more than a quarter of their entire deer harvest on opening day of their primary firearms season.
Complete state-by-state estimates of total buck harvest, buck age structure, and many other harvest parameters are available in the full Whitetail Report, which also includes a look at numerous other critical issues for whitetails and deer hunters.
QDMA’s 2018 Whitetail Report is available for download free on the QDMA website at this link:
It’s the largest consumer outdoor show in the country. And it gets underway Saturday, Feb. 2 and runs until Feb. 10 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. To many sportsmen in the Lehigh Valley, this show is commonly known as the “Harrisburg Show,” despite it’s new name of “The Great American Outdoor Show.”
Hosted by the NRA and Ram trucks, this year’s super show will feature over 200 seminars, 1,100 exhibits, over 400 hunting/fishing outfitter’s from around the world, equipment dealers including the top firearms manufacturer’s, ATVs, SUVs, trucks and boats.
Added attractions are the NRA Foundation banquet and a country music concert on Feb. 9 featuring entertainers Easton Corbin, Lee Brice and Tyler Farr. Then there’s Phil Robertson, of the Duck Commanders TV show, who will host a meet-and-greet at the Friends of the NRA Banquet.
A sampling of seminars will include Lee and Tiffany Lakosky on Hunting Whitetails; Corey Brossman sharing information on Bowfishing 101; Barry Wensel on Longbow Hunting Whitetails and many more.
While mom and dad will feel like a kid in a candy store, kids can have a ball at the show as well. The show will have a Kids Casting Contest, Trout Pond, NRA Air Gun Range, and for younger children, the Eddie Eagle Kids Zone, manned by NRA personnel and offering a host of activities to keep kids interested and occupied. There will also be a rock climbing wall and live raptors exhibit.
Other events are the Dock Dogs, 3D Archery Challenge, calling contests even taxidermy competition hosted by Pennsylvania Taxidermy Association.
Like to win one of the guns on the Wall of Guns? Buy a raffle ticket or two and you may get lucky. And judging from last years Wall, all 60-plus firearms are top-notch.
If you’re a bowhunter or archer, one nicety of the show is that you can try out a bow, be it compound, crossbow, recurve or PCP, before you buy. The vast archery section will have the gamut of major bowhunting equipment manufacturers offering everything from bows to treestands and then some.
Some patrons plan vacation days around the show because as customary, the weekdays are less crowded than weekends - although certain weekdays are just as packed.
If you’re handicapped or have a tough time walking the myriad of displays, scooters and wheelchairs are available for rental.
Food and drink concessions are scattered throughout the show with seating areas reserved for food patrons so you don’t have to stand and eat.
And instead of standing and waiting in the customary long lines at the shows’ entrances, go to (www.greatamericanoutdoorshow.org) and purchase your show and Country Concert tickets online. The shows’ complete schedule and times are also posted there. You can also download a smartphone app that has a floor directory, dates, times, seminar schedule and more.
As for admission, if you purchase you NRA membership at the show, admission for the day is free. Otherwise ticket prices are: Adults, $14; 2-Day admission, $24; Seniors (65 and over), $12; Groups (10 or more), $12; Children 6-12, $7; Late Afternoon Special, $8; Kids with a paying adult are free. Guests who bring a previous day’s ticket receive FREE admission on Sunday, Feb. 10.
Nearly $200,000 of show’ proceeds are granted yearly to various Pennsylvania outdoor organizations. So the NRA gives back to the community.
Directions to the show are on their website and for GPS users, the Farm Show is located at 2300 Cameron Street, Harrisburg, Pa 17110.
With the major portion of the deer hunting seasons about over, our annual deer take survey from local deer processors and a taxidermy shop shows a healthy population of 8-point bucks, a favorable accomplishment since antler restrictions went into effect in Pennsylvania.
At Hartman’s Butcher shop in New Tripoli, Mr. Hartman said they no longer take deer in for processing, but merely process the boneless meat into specialty cuts. But he did add that some local hunters told him that because of the rainy months we had, the swamps that would produce deer, the deer were not there because the swamps were flooded. So deer were scarce. As an added, note, he said a customer captured a 300-pound bear on his trail camera the day after Christmas on his property near Leaser Lake. Guess that bruin didn’t go into hibernation.
Lazarus Market in Whitehall, reported they received a lot of 8-pointers for processing, most of which averaged around 180 pounds field-dressed. But they did process one that tipped the scales at 200 pounds.
Fable’s Deer Processing in Slatington, said they took in a bit more archery shot deer this year than during the rifle season. Jeremy Frable said that was probably the result of the first week of rifle season being off because of the rainy weather. But overall, they had lots of 8-pointers and a few 12-pointers with one field dressed at 200 pounds.
Bob’s Wildlife Taxidermy in Orefield reports taking in somewhere over 100 antlers to mount. This year he had a 50-50 split between archery to rifle deer season on incoming racks. And most of the antlers were 8 and 10-pointers with one heavy 11-pointer that had a 20-inch wide main beam. He judges rack size by mass and width as opposed to points. As he says, “Although it’s a 10-pointer, it doesn’t mean it’s big, especially if it can fit inside the hood of a jacket.”
But if you want to talk big deer, how about the 38-point buck that was arrowed in Edgar County, Illinois on Nov. 2, 2018. Bowhunter Luke H. Brewster of Edgar County, said his gigantic buck had an estimated green score of 311 but after the 60-day drying period, it officially scored 320 5/8. His buck, according to Boone & Crockett (B&C) and Pope & Young (P&Y) club scoring methods, was only the 5th hunter-taken non-typical whitetail to exceed 300 inches in history. When verified, it will be the third largest non-typical whitetail in B&C and P&Y World’s Record Books.
According to Eli Randall, director of Big Game Records for P&Y, “Putting Luke’s deer in perspective, this deer could surpass our current World Record that has stood for 18 years by more than 20 inches. The current P&Y World Record was taken in 2000 by Michael Beatty from Green County, Ohio. It scored 294 points.”
Brewster’s buck had a gross typical frame of 151 5/8 with 178 3/8 inches of abnormal points. After an accepted entry score, all potential World Record entries for each organization are verified by a panel of official measurers. And a panel of B&C and P&Y measurers is being scheduled next to verify the bucks’ measurements.
B&C scores are for firearms taken animals whereas P&Y are for big game that is harvested with a bow and arrow. For more information on both conservation organizations check www.boone-crockett.or and www.pope-young.org.
If you’re interested in trying camping this year, but aren’t quite sure how to start, or have an RV and want to trade-up, slip on over to Ag Hall in the Allentown Fairgrounds this weekend and check out the oldest running RV and camping show in the country.
The 2019 Lehigh Valley RV and Campgrounds Show kicks off tomorrow, Friday Jan. 11 and runs until Sunday, Jan. 13. It will feature 13 different RV dealers that will display everything from pop-ups, trailers, slide-ins, slide-outs on up to Class A Motorhomes for your perusal.
And besides these, there will be representatives there along with Anderson’s Campgrounds Directory Booth to offer information on over 100 campgrounds on the East Coast.
A host of other camping gear is also shown such as portable solar panels to power a host of low power electrical devices and RV peripheral equipment.
Show hours are Jan. 11 from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Jan. 12, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Jan. 13, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission is $7 for adults while children under 12 are free as is parking.
The Agri-Plex (Ag Hall) is located at 302 N. 17th Street in Allentown. For more information check www.allentowntradeshows.com. Or call 610-433-7541.
Within an hours drive of the Lehigh Valley, some of the best smallmouth bass fishing can be had in the Susquehanna River that runs past Harrisburg. And in a pair of recent reports, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) biologists concluded that the Susquehanna River is home to a healthy, abundant population of smallmouth bass and channel catfish.
From October 22-28, 2018, fisheries biologists conducted nighttime electrofishing surveys targeting adult smallmouth bass at four historic sampling sites located within the middle portion of the Susquehanna River between Clemson Island and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge. Sites surveyed were near Clemson Island, Rockville, the Dock Street Dam and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge near Highspire, Dauphin County. Of note, the catch rate of smallmouth bass in 2018 was the fifth-highest on record since standardized surveys began in the middle section of the Susquehanna River in 1990. In addition, the surveys revealed a strong population of adult bass ranging in size from 6 to 20-inches, as well as record numbers of trophy-sized bass measuring 18-inches or longer.
“The findings of this survey continue to reveal a strong smallmouth bass population,” said Geoff Smith, PFBC Susquehanna River Biologist. “Because we’re seeing fish in all size categories, we believe the population will remain strong for years to come.”
In a second report, PFBC biologists outlined the findings of adult channel catfish surveys conducted between 2016 to 2018. During this time, biologists surveyed eleven sites; six in the middle section of the Susquehanna River extending from Sunbury to York Haven, and five in the lower Susquehanna River from York Haven to the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
Using commercial catfish bait, biologists collected thousands of channel catfish ranging in length from 12 to 31-inches. While equipment used in the survey is not capable of collecting younger fish, typically those under 12-inches, the number of catfish in the angler-preferred length of 24-inches or longer was good in both the middle and lower sections of the river with no evidence of overfishing.
This is good news especially since back in 2014 it was announced that a malignant, or cancerous tumor was found on a single smallmouth that was caught by angler in the middle of the Susquehanna.
According to PF&BC biologists, cancerous growths and tumors on fish are extremely rare in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S., but they do occur. However, this is the only documented case of this type of tumor being found on SMB in Pennsylvania.
Since 2005, PFBC biologists have observed more than 22,000 adult SMB as part of routine surveys in the Susquehanna River basin, and have not documented any fish with obvious signs of tumors.
I asked Michael Parker, PF&BC media relations manager, if it was ever determined what was the cause of this disease. In checking with agency biologists, Parker reported that the primary reason for the response of the population is improved recruitment after several years of reduced disease-related mortality of young-of-year smallmouth bass that resulted from largemouth bass virus in concert with a host of other factors. Since 2012, the agency has observed a few moderate to strong year classes come into the population as disease prevalence has waned. During that time, disease prevalence has remained around 10% or less as opposed the highs of the mid-2000s when proportion of fish in our surveys observed with lesions was 67% at the middle Susquehanna River. Parker added that they now have a more robust population with multiple year classes, including a large number of juvenile fish, that can withstand the fluctuations in the population (natural or otherwise) should they occur.
My other question, was a cure ever found and have anymore been found since one was caught in in 2005? According to biologists, no, the cause or cure of the tumor is still uncertain. No other fish have been found with a similar tumor since that fish was caught. But the agency will continue to monitor the situation.
As this latest study shows, smallmouths are thriving with good numbers and large sizes in the Susquehanna. And once the weather breaks, anglers may want to wet a line there and see for themselves what a bona fide smallmouth fishery this is.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.