I was sitting here half the night wondering why I could not write a simple column about deer nutrition as requested.

Along towards daylight, I discovered the problem — there was another stupid poem rattling around in there. I wish that would stop happening — it is really bad for my image. Any superficial resemblance to individuals, living or dead, and/or actual occurrences is purely coincidental:

The wind may whistle, howl and wail

But it can never tell the tale

Of the time the wardens came for old Jim Black

Jim was of the surly sort

He said he hunted for the sport.

Others saw it with a different eye.

Jim said hard hunting would make your luck

But he never stepped outside his truck

Except to toss some critter in the back

The game laws? Jim just did not care

If it had feathers, fur, or hair

If old Jim saw it, it was apt to die.

He’d shoot bunnies, hawks, or doves

But the thing that Old Jim really loves

Is shooting deer over a great big pile of bait.

His apple trees were pretty dear

A bumper crop came every year

And each fruit wore a supermarket tag.

The season wasn’t for a week or so

But Jim was driving, dark and slow

He never really was the type to wait

The night was black but his spot was bright

And skillfully, he played that light

Shining his baits for something he could bag

He didn’t really need the meat

But other hunters he just had to beat

He would get there first to have the favored choice

So from pile to pile, he’d creep and shine

His rifle ready at the prime

Just searching for some eyes there shining back

He had no fear, as his truck rolled west

No one would live that disturbed his quest

Jim bragged to them all, in his tobacco-gravelly voice.

Try to take him in the night

He’d come at you with gun and knife

No mortal was his match, said old Jim Black.

So as his spot probed in the night

There by the apples, burning bright

He saw his grail—two lime green shining eyes

Through the window, Jim’s barrel flashed

He sighted and loosed a fearsome blast

Then shined and damn! Those eyes were still right there!

He racked the action and shot twice more

The valley echoed his rifle’s roar

It never took him quite this many tries

Those mocking eyes, they stared right back

Through muzzle’s blast and bullet’s whack

Unconcerned, as if they had no care.

He shot all six bullets his gun would hold

The eyes shined on his fumbling to reload

Then he froze as he saw a light and heard a laugh.

His blood ran cold; he was shaky, sick

He’d fallen for a simple trick

That “deer” just reflectors the warden stuck out there.

He was far too scared to even curse

There were red lights now, it was getting worse

He could only run in the panic of his gaffe

His Powerwagon sped away

Through country lanes and a farmer’s hay

Through a backyard, golf course, even a burial ground

He powered through pasture and fields of corn

Mud and brush his truck adorn

But his breathing slowed. There were no red lights in sight.

Now he thought to get that big truck hid

Of rifle and shells he must be rid

Tuck them well away, case the wardens came around

He only wanted to clear his head

Forget fake deer and go to bed

And do his best to forget this awful night.

He tossed open the door to the old truck shed

And swooned as his world turned red-red-red

The warden’s car was sitting in his own garage!

The wind may whistle, howl and wail

But it can never tell the tale

At least not the Jim Black tale they tell today

For when the telling starts, Jim just slinks off

Doesn’t want to hear the people scoff

The ridicule he never more can dodge.

For when fierce Jim Black opened up that shed

And the warden’s car started flashing red

Jim wet his pants and fainted dead away.

The reason baiting works so well (and therefore why it is illegal) is because the timing coincides with a major change in dietary needs for the whitetail deer.

Deer nutrition changes dramatically in the need for protein, carbohydrates, and especially minerals throughout the year. Spring finds the bucks needing to rebuild muscle after the depletion of the rut and survival mode for the winter. Does are in the last throes of pregnancy trying to grow the fawns as much as possible for a head start on making it through the winter. The key here is protein and it is now we find deer leaving browse and seeking out legumes such as clovers and alfalfa in the farm fields. Emerging legume crops like soybeans are also liable to take big hits.

Summer is a different matter. Protein is still critical for nursing does but the bucks are starting to grow antlers. Antlers are 30 percent calcium and phosphorous, so bucks — while seeking legumes and forbs for the protein — are picking out certain ones where sufficient mineral stores may be detected.

Fall is an entirely different matter. Now the antlers are grown, the fawns have achieved their growth, and the does need to rebuild their fat stores. Now the quest is for carbohydrates. Key on the hit parade are the flours of the woodland, the mast (tree) crops. Beechnuts are a favorite with acorns a close second. In other areas, hazelnuts and even some thin-shelled cultivated nuts like Carpathian walnuts and almonds are used. Along with this, and particularly in the years when the mast crops are low, fruits and berries may be sought out. Wild apple trees (or the poacher’s piles of apples and carrots) become favorite haunts. This morning there was a deer meticulously picking raspberries from our bed.

They also seek out plants that make a bulb, generating energy and body fat from the starches stored there. Now is when we go to the garden to find all the fat carrots and beets either plucked from the ground or eaten right down into it as far as a deer’s nose can push.

This switch is often quite sudden and it is this time of the year deer will contract a condition called rumen acidosis, potentially fatal, resulting from insufficient digestive bacteria of the proper kind to deal with the influx of starches and sugars. The same thing can happen with beginning a feeding program based around grains in the winter time. The deer will usually move from food source to food source in gradual fashion keeping this from being a problem, but sometimes the allure of a three-foot pile of macs is too much to resist.

In winter, much of the time is spent simply standing around trying not to use energy. Any feeding is aimed at carbohydrates, supplementing the use of stored body fat to keep warm.

So, a poacher’s pile of apples might be more dangerous to a deer herd than you might think. I hope they all get caught...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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