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WICHE: Predictions for winter, does the deer rut count?

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By Jeneen Wiche

Everyone seems to have a theory about predicting the severity of winter weather.  I have a wait-and-see attitude, but for fun let’s consider some of the natural predictors that may or may not be of sound authority.

The woolly worm is a favorite, and the folklore says that winter will be a long cold one if the worms are predominantly black and they start moving about before the first hard frost. 

These seem ominous:  If there are three severe fogs in June and July, it means an early snow; and for every fog in August, there will be a corresponding snow in winter.  It was foggy in August!

We have had a touch of frost, but nothing widespread, and the prognosticators say a late, late frost means a cold, cold winter.

Squirrels’ tails grow bushier, and they start collecting nuts early.  I can’t remember a squirrelier year. Crickets invade the chimney (they are in the basement); leaf-footed stinkbugs are clamoring to get in; and the snakes were on the move (remember the one in my kitchen in September) a month ago! 

Does an early deer rut mean a bad winter; I’ve always thought it did?

It seems that it came around early this year; we have likely lost a few young trees to this seasonal dance where young bucks rub on trunks.  This is not a passive predictor of winter it is one that demands some action.

As we clean up the vegetable garden, removing the tomato cages and associated debris from the garden the cages find a new winter use out in the fields and around the house in order to protect certain young trees from the rut.  It started about 3 weeks ago as these youngsters practice using their antlers on the trunks of our young trees.

We have young trees all over the 18 acres that make up Swallow Rail, so it seems that we are party central for rutting; and there are many trees to protect. We have rigged protection using heavy tomato cages, chicken wire and tobacco stakes, large nursery pots and anything else we could find in the barn that would create a barrier between antler and trunk. 

We have learned that if we change the trunk profile of young trees the bucks don’t notice them as desirable rubs!

Basically a perfect rutting tree has a branchless trunk about chest high with a caliper (trunk circumference) of a few inches. As such, if we camouflage the clean trunk with other branch debris stuck into the soil around the base of the tree, we have adequately changed the profile.  It looks a little funny but it works.

Any pruning that you do this fall can be used as a free fence around the base of susceptible trees. 

We have also used plastic trunk wraps that loosely fit around the trunks, but they do not seem to provide enough of a physical barrier to deter rutting.  Not as much damage to the trunk occurred but it was clear the buck did not notice or care about the wrap.

Our deterrent strategy also includes letting Buck (the dog) out after dark…he is very good about listening and responding to unusual sounds coming from the fields around the house.

He doesn’t stay out all night, so part of this strategy is flawed because I think they now time their arrival after 11 p.m.