2018-03-13 / Outdoor Life

Getting Even

By Ryan Trapani

My friend who introduced me to hunting many years ago would say something following hunting season that stuck with me: “Time to get even Trapani.” After a season of killing deer, he would turn to killing coyotes in order to “get even” or help out the deer population he recently helped plunder. Hunting was new to me and this made intuitive sense. We had just killed some deer and if we wanted to see more the next year, then eliminating or reducing their chief predator – the coyote – made sense. Using this logic, we were “getting even” by balancing previously killed deer with expected deer killed by coyotes. I think there might be some truth in this, but there exist other significant ways one can “get even” too.

Instead of taking the rifle out to drop coyotes, maybe more benefit could come from dropping trees with the orange Husky chainsaw. During hunting season, deer expend a lot of energy – especially bucks – in pursuit of does. On the other hand, does expend energy too, in running from unwanted bucks. And then there is winter and all the cold weather and snow it brings with it. In addition, autumn’s apples, beechnuts, acorns or green grass have withered away offering deer nothing more than “browse.”

Nuthin’ to Eat but “Browse”

Browse includes mostly twigs – mainly buds – from trees and shrubs within reach. Browse becomes especially important after snow has covered up food found on the forest floor. The problem is that browse, too, is becoming scarce in these Catskill Mountains as forests continue to mature; there just simply aren’t many young trees or shrubs within 6 feet that a deer can reach. Oh, there’s food; it’s just 40 to 60 feet high in the upper tree canopy.

And that’s where one can “get even.” If you don’t believe me, try cutting down a red maple tree this time of year; those deer will have eaten every red bud within reach after 24 hours. Deer need all the help they can get to make it to “green up” or between April and May when things start growing again. I try to cut trees that have poor quality, exhibit poor form or are competing with a more desirable tree that’s good for wildlife, such as oak or hickory. If you can, cut more than just one; cut as many as you have energy and time for. One single deer can supposedly eat between four and six pounds of buds/day or between ½ ton to 1 ton/ year.

Why Am I Talking About Deer, Again?

Maybe you’re asking yourself why so much talk about satisfying the deer herd anyway; are these guys just managing for future deer to hunt? Well, in some ways, yes! But, when I look at the greater picture – or forest in this case – deer are most important to satisfy. If we don’t satisfy deer, or – to put it another way – if deer go hungry, then forests go hungry too. In many areas of the Catskills, they already have. When there is too little to eat for the deer that exist, then deer literally eat everything up to 6 feet, which impacts all those other plants and wildlife that depend upon that forest layer to exist. Many sections of private land and state forest preserve have reached this low-lying plateau of understory barrenness. The deer have simply kept up with or eaten what few plants grow within reach.

Hunting deer can help “get even” with their expected consumption of vegetation throughout the year, while hunting coyotes might serve the same function with expected predation throughout the year. But, cutting trees might be longer lasting since it both provides deer with food and escape cover from predators, which can benefit both the growth of forests and deer. After all, we humans contain the greatest ability to give back or “get even” by using our thumbs and experience to cast sunlight in the forest and get things growing again. In the absence of this artificial sunlight are more hungry deer staring at you through the house window, munching on your newly planted arborvitaes. The forest just isn’t providing the food anymore, while the roadsides, power-lines, and housing developments are ironically offering something to eat (accidentally). The forest can do better.

Ryan Trapani is the director of Forest Services at Catskill Forest Association;

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