Deer create hazard
Deer are out in full force, so motorists should keep an extra close eye on the sides of the road when they travel at night.
Bill Ohde, the DNR wildlife supervisor at Lake Darling, said the state is right in the middle of the annual “rut,” the deer’s mating season. The rut picks up near the end of October and goes through the month of November. Ohde said the first two weeks of November are its peak.
“That’s when most bow hunters take their vacation,” he said.
Ohde said that, a good rule of thumb when looking for deer during the rut is that if you see one, you should assume it’s not alone. He said that if a motorist sees a deer cross the highway, there’s a good chance that it’s a doe and that either her fawns or a pursuing buck are not far behind.
Bucks begin chasing does when they are about 1.5 years old. The does, on the other hand, are being chased before they are a year old. He said the does born last spring will get bred this fall, although usually a month later than the older does.
Ohde said another reason deer are on the move is that their living quarters have been disturbed. Many deer take cover in the corn fields over the summer, but those are nearly all gone now. In the past, deer have taken refuge in the tall prairie grasses that farmers planted in CRP.
However, Ohde said CRP is not as lucrative as it once was and consequently more farmers are converting those grasses into row crops, meaning that the deer have to get creative in what they use for a dwelling.
The disappearance of the corn and beans is also a disruption to the deer’s culinary habits, albeit a minor one. Ohde said that even after the crops have been harvested, the deer are still able to find waste grain scattered throughout the fields.
When deer move, they tend not to move very far. Ohde said that females tend to stay in a small range, while bucks tend to roam a bit more. He said the problem the bucks run into is that they have to compete with older deer for control of a territory, which pushes them from their home turf onto uncharted land.
How far the animals range also depends on the quality of their habitat. If the deer can find plenty to eat and are comfortable in their bedding, they’ll stay put. If not, they’ll pack their bags and look for greener pastures.
“In northern Iowa, deer may move several miles in the winter,” Ohde said. “Down here, we have a better mix of habitats, so you won’t see deer roaming as much.”
Yet another reason deer move so much this time of year is that they are being hunted. Bow hunting season began in early October and shotgun season begins Dec. 1.
Once the hunting season is over, deer tend to settle down. Ohde said they get into a routine of making daily trips from their bedding area to their food source.
“After the hunting season, they get in a routine and probably won’t move much at all,” he said. “They could live the whole winter in a small area. Most of them will find waste corn or beans. Deer are also browsers, so they’ll eat shoots and twigs. In forested areas, they really concentrate on acorns. They are a big part of their food source.”
Ohde said that deer numbers are down considerably compared to what they were eight to 10 years ago. He said the DNR has made a conscious effort to reduce deer numbers after receiving many complaints from farmers whose crops were eaten and from motorists who hit deer.
“Now there are folks who are saying we overdid it, and that they would like to see more deer,” he said.