Thanks to the deer hunter

Anyone on the back roads these days, or even in town, knows the Rainy River District forest is ablaze with hunters at this time of year.
You likely know at least one person who will haul in a hoofed mammal by the end of the season, and you might even feel out of vogue if you don’t sport an orange vest or hat.
I’ve yet to take up hunting, but I enjoy the fury of interest it lends to the late fall season—and the fact it helps control the overpopulation of deer which negatively impacts the area ecosystem.
Recently, a couple of hunters I crossed paths with in the forest were surprised to hear my positive reaction to their presence.
I don’t think they wanted my narrative about the wondrous circle of life, but they were happy that I was dressed in orange and that I appreciate the battle-like bangs in the distant forest.
I liken it to the regular train whistles in town—after a time you don’t even pay attention.
Anyway, when I hear those gun shots, I think about how a few less deer will help the plant community, benefitting other animals and even birds and butterflies.
It’s not a complicated phenomenon—deer browse plants which other species rely on, too.
Let’s use Ontario’s emblem, the trillium, as an example. I’ve heard older people talk about how it used to be abundant, but deer have browsed this flower into oblivion.
These flowers hosted ants; the ants helped compost fallen trees; the decay of the trees nourished the ground; ground nourishment is what produces new growth.
The trillium, however, is only one of dozens of species the deer browse. In the summer, they graze gardens and all kinds of herbaceous wild species like blue-bead lilies, marsh marigolds, and bloodroot.
In winter, they eat about five pounds of woody browse a day, including cedar and mountain ash.
In short, in extreme high density situations, deer actually can create ecological deserts.
In our yard at the cabin, a deer munched away a shrub that used to host the nest of a songbird.
Older people also tell us that deer are more abundant now. In fact, at the turn of the last century they were scarce.
A 1929 study that involved camps of men in the western portion of the Rainy River District counting (and collecting) fauna states that deer were not so plentiful.
It even states that “the first white-tailed deer was first seen in the Rainy River country by Mr. Fisher in 1897, who was a resident in the district since 1890. Other residents gave the same, or approximately the same, date for the arrival of this animal.”
It’s hard to imagine that deer were once so sparse. Today, deer eyes at night, on back roads especially, are grouped like medieval candles marking the way.
My husband marvels at the “big racks” (something he’s only allowed to talk about in relation to ungulates).
So although I don’t acquire any quarry of my own (well, except for the grouse that hit our cabin window), I applaud the hunter. They not only brighten the roads and towns with their blazing orange, they do their part to protect biodiversity.
I welcome your comments about managing deer population, and any other cabin-related topic.
You can reach me at joanna@escape.ca

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