Tag Archives: Deer

How To Care For Wildlife in Winter

Winter is undeniably making its way toward us this season. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up its frigid pace, various wildlife are preparing themselves for the winter fright. By this time, many creatures have long started their winter survival methods, such as migration, hibernation, or camouflaging to more easily adapt to the harsh temperature drops. As part of such a great ecosystem, many of us may be tempted to help these animals survive the winter wilderness. However, it is important to be aware of the proper ways to care for these creatures if we come across one in need. Below are some tips for how to care for wildlife this winter.

1. Be Mindful with What You Feed Them

Many of us will want to provide some food to precious wildlife, and we can’t blame you! The winter freezes everything in sight, and food is especially scarce during this time. However, there are some animals that are better off not fed. Perhaps the best example of this are deer. During winter, deer undergo physiological changes to acclimate, and their diet becomes more protein-based. This means that the bacteria that was previously present in their gut during spring and summer is now replaced with bacteria best for digesting high protein-based nutrients in fall and winter.

Deer eating in winter

Deer eating in winter. [Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/]

In fact, there have been multiple cases where deer have died due to a complication in the digestive tract when they were given food that was not appropriate to their current living situation. Deer may starve even when their stomachs are full of food due to bacteria incompatibility in their gut. Therefore it is most appropriate to be mindful of what we feed these creatures. The best route? Don’t feed them at all.

However, if you do choose to, here are some guidelines you must follow:

  • Stick to natural browse plants such as: woody plants (dogwood, honeysuckle, red cedar, oaks); winter forbs (sedges); winter crops (wheat, clover, rye grass); and winter fruits (coralberry, sumac seedheads).
  • DON’T FEED: hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, or cabbage/lettuce trimmings.
  • Protect feed from moisture.
  • Carefully select deer formulation in pellet form.

If you require more information on how to minimize impacts of deer-feeding during winter, Maine’s government offers a good article on the topic.

2. Leave Water Outside

Because freezing temperatures tend to leave ice instead of liquid, it is even more crucial to leave water outside for wildlife species. Birds, for instance, would benefit from water left outside for them to drink during winter. One can purchase a small heating rod that would prevent water from icing over—this equipment can easily be purchased in your local garden stores.

Alternatively you can invest in an artificial pond or birdbath and keep the water ice-free. It will most definitely be a welcome warmth for these friendly neighbors!

Bird in winter

Bird drinking water in winter. [Image: http://blog.wbu.com/]

3. Winter Garden Wilderness 

If you have a backyard, you can help provide a temporary solace by letting your backyard or garden, whichever is more applicable, run wild this winter. Let dead leaves, grass, and twigs pile up in a designated corner so wildlife can make a home out of this during the following winter months. Birds can also use the twigs for their nests!

compost garden

Garden compost. [Image: http://www.bobsmarket.com/]

4. Be Informed

While some wildlife is better off not fed, you can in fact provide food for some creatures. For instance, hanging feeders containing seed blends, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are great for birds! Hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds make for happy squirrels while cheese, boiled potatoes, and bread scraps during dusk are a great comfort for foxes. But quantity and mindfulness is key. Leaving too much can make them dependent and can cause a nuisance on you instead. Being ill-informed can prove fatal to their health.

squirrel and bird in hanging seed feeder

Bird and squirrel hanging on a seed feeder. [Image: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/]

Remember that while helping wildlife is great, it’s also a huge responsibility. Being informed and mindful makes you a more helpful neighbor for wildlife this winter!

Check your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for more information on habitat and usual wildlife behavior, available in Google Play and the Apple Store.

How to Distinguish Elk, Reindeer, Caribou and Moose

Deer in the mist.

Who is that beyond the mist? [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/spikylau]

On a misty morning behind the tall trees, a deer appears with startled eyes from the nothing, timidly standing around. There’s a mythical air that hangs about this beautiful creature. It’s no wonder Ancient Japanese and Chinese considered them divine messengers and symbols of tranquility.

Still, with 90 deer species in the world, it’s hard to say what you’re looking at. When it comes to the largest of the bunch we have you covered. Elk, reindeer, caribou and moose all share major characteristics, including behavior, size, antlers, and coat. They are easily recognized from afar due to their enormous size, but can be hard to differentiate. Though mostly docile, the viewer should approach deer with caution as they can react when provoked, especially during mating season. Here are some clues on how to distinguish elk, reindeer, caribou and moose— best learned before your next scouting day.


Elk laying in the snow.

Image: www.pinterest.com

Called wapiti (light-colored deer) by Native Americans, the elk is the second largest deer after the moose. Its antlers can grow up to 4 feet, weighing about 40 pounds. This is especially important to females who pay close attention to males with larger antlers, usually gathering around to pursue them. Healthy bulls with large antlers are great at winning battles and dominating small herds. Males typically shed antlers in March and grow them back in May, which they’ll use during clashes to determine who gets to mate with whom. Elk measure 4 to 5 feet tall and weigh anywhere between 300 to 1,100 pounds. Their coat ranges from light tan in the summer to a darker brown coat during winter; typically their neck and legs are darker than the rest of their body. Males have a thicker, darker mane on their neck. Elk calls include barks, mews, squeals, grunts, coughs, and the bugle, which can be heard through the mountains during breeding season. Look for elk in dense forests and open spaces, such as aspen groves, mountain meadows, and desert valleys.


Image: www.56thparallel.com

Image: www.56thparallel.com

Famous for pulling Santa’s sleigh, reindeer don’t actually fly (shocking, we know), but they are good swimmers! Reindeer are considered domesticated caribou that travel in herds or roam within pastured land. Their furry, hollow hairs provide a cozy insulation during the cold. And like us, their noses take in cold air and turn it into warm air! Their fur color varies, from brownish to white depending on range and season. Prehistoric nomads relied on reindeer herds for their meat, hides, antlers, milk and most of all, transportation. These practices are still found in the Arctic and Europe, most notably Alaska and Siberia (See Nenets herding reindeer in Siberia). Female or cow reindeer are the exception to the rule; they grow antlers unlike other female deer. Male reindeer (bulls) shed their antlers in December whereas females shed their antlers in the summer. This means come Christmastime, females will be pulling Santa’s sleigh. Reindeer communicate by making a clicking sound with their knees as they walk, making a discernible sound even from ten meters away. Bulls measure about 80 inches in length and weigh between 200 and 650 pounds. Females are smaller at 71 to 84 inches in length, weighing 180 to 260 pounds. Their antlers can reach 39 inches in width and 53 inches in length.



Image: www.images.huffingtonpost.com

Reindeer and caribou share similar characteristics; after all, they’re cousins. Their paths diverged during the last Ice Age. Caribou are the wild ones, while reindeer prefer the comfort of home. In North America, reindeer are called caribou, though the names are used interchangeably. Caribou travel more than 600 miles along annual routes, sometimes going up to 3,000 miles during winter migration— the longest migration among mammals. Like their cousins, they survive mainly on lichen, and can be found roaming in forests, mountains, and in the tundra up north. Their hooves are perfect for harsh winters, and allow them to dig through snow for moss. Reindeer and caribou that still have antlers late in the year are known to be pregnant. Their antlers come in handy when defending their food and scaring off larger caribou from suitable areas meant for their offspring. The woodland caribou is considered endangered in the U.S., with only a few surviving south of the Canadian border.


Image: www. images7.alphacoders.com/406/406934.jpg

Image: www. images7.alphacoders.com

Moose are easily discernible by their massive antlers, which measure up to 6 feet in length. Antlers are true only for males, and noticeable after one year of age, as they continue to grow. As in other deer, growing antlers are covered with soft, furry skin called “velvet.” Moose antlers are broad and flat with finer pointed edges. After reaching maturity, moose antlers start to recede each year until it dies. If antlers are not present, moose are easily recognized by their long face and loose skin hanging under their throat, making them appear sad. Moose use their antlers during mating season to intimidate competitors and spar with rivals (called rut), and make calls (bellows) to woo females. Adult male coats differ from young ones: adult moose are dark brown, and young ones are reddish brown. Their keen sense of smell, hearing and swimming ability makes up for their poor eyesight, so don’t underestimate them. Moose are tall, so expect them to be hiding out in high grasses and shrubs; lowering their heavy heads to ground level is rather difficult. During winter they eat shrubs and pinecones, but also mosses and lichens.

To see where all these wild deer roam, download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a state park near you. And if you spot a cool deer, share it on our social media sites, like our Pocket Ranger® or Trophy Case Instagram accounts.

Your State’s Mammal

There is nothing more earthly than the site of wildlife in a state park. If you love seeing wildlife, then you’ll be interested to know which animal belongs to your state. While exploring the parks with your state’s Pocket Ranger® app in hand, keep your eyes peeled for some of these state mammals!


Black bear near trees

Image: www.newsrender.com

This state’s mammal is the black bear. They are intelligent, shy and very secretive. Black bears aren’t always just black in color; their colors can range from cinnamon, white beige and grey. Adult black bears weigh 130-150 pounds and they are omnivorous.


Beige panther sitting on tree branch

Image: www.evergladesassociation.org

This carnivorous mammal of Florida is the panther. Adult female panthers weigh 64-100 pounds, while the males weigh 100-159 pounds. The panther’s underbelly is creamy white and the tip of the tails and ears is black. Panthers are usually black, white or beige. Currently, the Florida Panther is listed on the endangered species list.


Brown moose by water

Image: traveltips.usatoday.com

Maine’s state mammal is the moose. They have long legs, a heavy body, small tail and a drooping nose. Their color ranges from golden brown to black. Moose are herbivores and consume plants or fruits. The males weigh about 840-1,540 pounds, while the female weighs 440-790 pounds.


White tailed deer with baby white tailed deer

Image: animals.nationalgeographic.com

The while-tailed deer is Mississippi’s state mammal. They are reddish brown in the spring and summer and they turn grey-brown throughout fall and winter. When they feel alarmed, they raise their tail to warn other deer. The males weigh 130-290 pounds and the females weigh 88-198 pounds. Whitetail deer eat legumes, leaves, grasses, fruits, acorns and corn.

New Jersey

Horseback riding, mountains in the background

Image: mtnvacations.net

Horses are New Jersey‘s state mammal. The size of horses varies by breed and by their nutrition. Light riding horses weigh 840-1,210 pounds and larger horses weigh 1,100-1,300 pounds. A horses diet consists of hay, grains, corn and fruits. Horses come in all kinds of colors, such as black, chestnut and gray.

New York

Brown beaver in sand

Image: www.gambassa.com

Who knew that a beaver was New York’s state animal? These mammals can weigh over 40 pounds and mate for life during their third year. Beavers have webbed feet and a scaly tail. They have poor eyesight but have a great sense of smell, touch and hearing. Their diet consists of plant tubers, roots, shoots and herbaceous plants. Beavers build dams to flood areas for protection from predators and to provide underwater entrances for their den.

South Dakota

Beige coyote walking in dirt

Image: a-z-animals.com

The coyote is South Dakota‘s mammal. They are smart and have a great sense of smell. Coyotes can attain a speed of 64 miles per hour! Their color varies from grayish brown to yellowish gray, and they weigh 16-46 pounds. Coyotes will change their diet and breeding habits to accommodate their changing environment.


Brown Olympic Marmot sitting in grass

Image: gerritvyn.photoshelter.com

The Olympic Marmot is Washington‘s state mammal. They are rodents in the squirrel family. Their head is wide with small eyes and ears and the tail is bushy. They weigh 7-30 pounds. Olympic Marmot’s are leaf-eating animals, occasionally eating fruits and insects.

People hiking up trail in state park

Image: www.lagrangemoms.com

Wondering where you can find wildlife? After downloading your state’s Pocket Ranger® app, you can easily find which state park nearest you has wildlife viewing as well as other activities. Have you been taking lots of great pics of wildlife while exploring the wilderness? Use the Trophy Case® app to share your photos with a community of fellow fish and wildlife lovers!

Suggested Gear List:

  • Binoculars
  • Shades
  • Hydration Waist Pack

Check out these supplies at our Gear Store to make your wildlife viewing experience exceptional!

Related articles

Summer Deer Scouting

The second it takes to pull a trigger or release an arrow is the culmination of many hours spent scouting afield. In that sense, the hunting season never ends; your season simply peaks when the shot is taken and the yearlong cycle starts over.

image: www.huntlife.com

image: www.huntlife.com

So it’s never too early to scout for deer. The last thing you want to do is unsettle sensitive deer habitat by heading out a week before the season begins to cut shooting lanes or hang a tree stand. By heading out in spring or early summer, you can take note of the previous year’s signage without altering deer behavior the coming fall.

Take note of everything. A well-worn deer trail is no indication of the size or sex of the deer that travel it. During the rut, for example, it is common for bucks, especially larger bucks, to make their own side trails not far from established corridors. Knowing where these are in relation to the major trails will help you understand buck behavior. Feeding habits are going to change as the season progresses but the paths to and from food sources often will not.

deer trail [image: trackinginthemud.wordpress.com]

deer trail [Image: trackinginthemud.wordpress.com]

Scrapes and rubs are unambiguous indicators of buck activity. It is generally believed that rubs and scrapes are used leading up to the breeding season as territorial scent markers. While rubs and scrapes do indicate the presence of bucks, they are by no means the last word on a buck’s whereabouts. In fact, recent research suggests that most scrape activity occurs during the nighttime hours.

Rubs are made throughout the fall by bucks rubbing their antlers against smaller trees and depositing scent from the sudoriferous gland (located on the forehead). Scrapes are oval areas pawed out on the forest floor located beneath a low hanging branch onto which a buck has deposited scent by licking and rubbing it with his forehead (scrapes which are smaller and do not contain a licking branch are known as mock scrapes). These can usually be found in groupings or ‘lines’ adjacent deer trails. Because deer often make scrapes in the same area year after year, locating last season’s scrapes will provide you with a general sense of where to expect to find this season’s scrapes.

deer scrape [image: blazin-trailblazer.blogspot.com]

deer scrape [Image: blazin-trailblazer.blogspot.com]

So, you’ve located an area full of deer sign. Take all your scouting information and mark it on a map or GPS app so that the next time you go scouting you know exactly where everything is. This will help you analyze deer behavior in addition to saving time and energy. Now you can study the area in depth and focus your search on how deer are moving in and around their habitat. Once you think you have the deer figured out, make a prediction about deer movement and test it out. When your predictions start coming true, you know you’re onto something.



Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) In Deer

What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?

Chronic Wasting Disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, or prion disease, that affects the brain and nervous system of cervids-mule deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, elk, and moose. While similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, there is no evidence to suggest that CWD is transmissible between cattle and cervids or humans and cervids. Signs of CWD include progressive weight loss, excessive salivation, behavioral changes, loss of appetite, grinding of the teeth, lowering of the head, drooping ears, listlessness, increased thirst and urination. The disease is found primarily in adult deer and is always fatal.

Image: jelendeer.com
Image: jelendeer.com

Where does CWD come from?

Research suggests that the causative agent of the disease, a deformed protein known as a prion, is transmitted from animal to animal through contaminated soil and food sources such as grass in the wild and feeding stations in captivity. So far, the origin of the disease is not known but one hypothesis suggests it may have derived from scrapie, a similar disease that affects sheep. The disease was first identified in a captive herd of Colorado mule deer in 1967.  Since the early 1980s, when the disease was first observed in a wild, Chronic Wasting Disease has quickly spread eastward with documented cases in Pennsylvania and New York in 2013. The number of affected states is expected to grow.

Image: roughkutoutdoors.com

Image: roughkutoutdoors.com

Are there CDW-affected deer in my area?

Currently, CWD-positive cervids have been found in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The disease has also been detected in farmed elk in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada. Contact your local fish and wildlife or DNR office to find out if animals from your area have tested positive for CWD.

Image: www.cwd-info.org

Image: www.cwd-info.org

Is CWD dangerous to humans?

Chronic Wasting Disease is NOT considered a health threat to humans. There have been no cases of human prion disease in connection with CWD. However, the CDC and public health officials recommend that people avoid exposure to CWD because the disease is not yet fully understood. Hunters should avoid shooting, handling, or consuming any animals that appear to be sick or show abnormal behavior. A complete list of hunter precautions can be found here.

Image: lancasteronline.com

Image: lancasteronline.com

How can we manage the spread of CWD?

In an effort to prevent the spread of CWD, many states have adopted carcass transportation regulations that ban the importation of any brain or spinal column tissue. Captive populations across the US and Canada have also been quarantined. Hunter-harvest deer carcasses and bones should be bagged and disposed of at landfills or other approved sites. Soil contaminated with CWD prions can remain infections for years and cannot be uncontaminated.


Packing Light for the Hunting Season

Contributed by Alex Vail, The Flying Kayak

While on a recent hunting trip with some old friends, I happened to look over at my buddy who was attempting to get his hunting pack onto his shoulders. After several grunts and groans, he finally managed to secure the gargantuan pack onto his back, turned to me, and said, “Ready?” His pack easily weighed 30 or more pounds and I questioned whether he was prepared for an evening hunt or planned to be in the woods for a week.

I looked down to grab my own backpack and chuckled to myself. Over the years I’ve realized there’s little need to carry so much gear into the woods for a single evening or morning hunt. I’ve broken down my pack to the bare essentials and when compared to my buddy’s bag, my own bag looked downright tiny. But what was inside was more than enough to get me by for the day.

Packing light for the hunting season can be a challenge. The following is a list of the bare essentials I carry into the woods.


Always take water. Seriously. Whether it’s a plastic Nalgene water bottle or a canteen like I carry, always have it with you. Even if it’s freezing cold outside, you’re going to need water.


My compass never leaves my pack unless I’m actively using it. I’ve learned that it’s far too easy to get hopelessly turned around in the woods, especially when hunting in an unfamiliar area. I like to keep it in an outside pouch for easy access.

Hunting Compass



It doesn’t matter if you’re making a morning hunt or an evening hunt for deer. The fact of the matter is that at some point, it’s going to be dark and the headlamp is a must. I prefer to use a headlamp just for the hands-free ability. It makes carrying my bow/rifle easier when I don’t have to worry about holding a flashlight in one hand.

Toilet Paper

Pretty self-explanatory as to why I carry this, as leaves just don’t get the job done. It’s extremely light, easy to fold, and it fits nicely in a plastic bag to keep from getting wet.

Packing Light for the Hunting Season

A Good Knife

On the miraculous off chance that the hunt is successful, it’s very nice to have the ability to at least field dress a deer. I usually carry a small skinning knife that makes field dressing deer a breeze, and it also comes in handy as a standard knife for whatever situation arises.


I used to always either carry my binoculars on my person, or have them shoved in some jacket pocket. But more often than not, I’d end up leaving the jacket at home or in the truck and have to go without. I now carry them in an outside pocket of my backpack. They’re easy to access, always on me, and let’s face it, even when bow hunting, binoculars are very, VERY nice to have.

First Aid Kit

If you’re half as clumsy as I am, you’ll end up using your first aid kit all the time. I carry a small one that holds your basic medical equipment. A first aid kit is one of those things that’s better to have and not need than to need and not have. It’s extremely light, compact, and there’s no real excuse for not having one in your hunting pack.

Marking Tape

Fluorescent orange marking tape is something that never really leaves my bag. I use it at all points during the hunting season. Whether it’s preseason scouting and marking trails, or marking a suitable tree to climb so that I find it in the dark, my marking tape always has a spot in my backpack.

Bug Repellant

The final item I always have in my pack is bug spray or a Thermacell. I realize that in most parts of the country, mosquitoes have long been frozen for the hunting season. But here in Florida, they almost never stop biting. I’m always thankful to have some sort of repellent with me while I’m on the verge of passing out from blood loss.

Bug Repellant

And that’s it. I obviously will carry other odds and ends depending on the particular day, weather, area, game, etc. Things like a sock hat, GoPro, extra ammo, and maps find their way into and out of my bag on a daily basis. But as my overall goal is to never lug an extremely bulky and heavy pack around, like my friend, I keep my pack loaded with just these bare essentials.

So if you find yourself hauling around an extremely heavy bag for just a single hunt, consider what you use and don’t use on a daily basis. Try cutting down the weight by bringing only what you’ll really need. You’ll find you’re much more comfortable and even quieter. Your back will also thank you for it!


5 Great Nonfiction Books for Hunters and Anglers

Now that you’ve got those Christmas giftcards, it’s time to treat yourself or that uncle you forgot about to a great read. Here at ParksByNature, not only do we love nature, we also love good prose. Whether it’s hunting, angling, or general nature writing that interests you, these five essential nonfiction books for hunters and anglers will dazzle readers with their style, wit, and insight into the mysterious realm of nature.

image: www.dogeardiary.blogspot.com

Image: www.dogeardiary.blogspot.com

1. The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Whenever we recommend this book to serious deer hunter friends of ours, the usual response is: “you mean that tree hugger?” If a tree hugger is somebody who spends more time in the woods than shopping at Cabelas, then count us in. Instead of telling you how deer should behave, this book records how deer actually behave. In The Hidden Life of Deer, Thomas weaves personal memoir, anthropological perspective, and a certain observational grace into a beautiful and revealing portrait of deer in the woods of New Hampshire. We’re not ashamed to say that a lot of what we know about deer hunting and behavior comes from this unique book.

image: www.goodreads.com

Image: www.goodreads.com

2. The Founding Fish by John McPhee

John McPhee is master stylist who has chronicled everything from basketball to the history of the Florida orange. He also happens to be a lifelong shad fisherman. The Founding Fish is a cultural history of American shad fishing that seamlessly blends meticulous scholarship with the ease and locality of travel writing. The book follows McPhee as he travels up and down the Eastern seaboard fishing for the mercurial shad and meditating on the fish’s importance to America’s dietary past. Did you know that George Washington’s Continental Army might have starved if it wasn’t for the spring shad run of 1778?

image: www.3riversarchery.com

Image: www.3riversarchery.com

3. A Man Made of Elk by David Petersen

This is an unusual and still obscure entry into the annals of hunting literature. One of the reasons for its slow reception is that Petersen is a dedicated traditionalist who only hunts one animal, elk, and does so with longbow, a form of technology unchanged since the 1300’s. Since longbow hunting requires getting up close and personal with the animal, Petersen has learned to act and think like an elk. This is probably the closest thing we have to a book on elk hunting written by an elk.

image: www.azstateparks.com

Image: www.azstateparks.com

4. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Leopold was a rare combination of philosopher, naturalist, conservationist, and hunter. A Sand County Almanac (1949) is a collection of personal essays about the wilderness of Wisconsin in which Leopold developed the modern philosophy of land conservation or “land ethic”. The book describes that era of conservation history when it was believed that the eradication of certain predatory species would increase the overall abundance of game. Leopold, as a hunter, was one of the first to see that an ecosystem was a far more complex matter.

image: www.biographile.com

Image: www.biographile.com

5. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane

You don’t have to be a trout fisherman to appreciate the tension and tug of McGuane’s prose. The Longest Silence is composed of 33 essays written over an equal number of years that take you everywhere from trout ponds in Michigan to fly fishing for bone fish in Florida. But the real subject of McGuane’s book is that mysterious and infinite silence between bites that every fisherman knows.