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The ‘gray coat’ neighbors are welcome

Karen Wils photo A young deer sneaks in at dusk for a nibble of food.

ESCANABA — How are the gray coats in your neighborhood?

Are they starting to look a bit shaggy or gaunt or are they still as round as butterballs and frisky.

For many of us, deer are some of our closest neighbors.

Watching wintertime whitetails is a common U.P. hobby, some folks do a limited feeding in the cold months just to help them out, and increase the winter survival rate.

Deer are welcomed guests, especially in February and March when their fat reserves and stamina are getting low.

There is almost a sense of camaraderie between the deer and the humans as we both seem to struggle through the last bitter drags of winter.

Is that deer in the yard checking on our woodpile to see if we have got enough to last until spring? Is he eying up my thread bare mittens and wondering if my winter outerwear will last until April?

The gray coats move like graceful ghosts upon the white landscape. You can almost set your clock by them. At dusk just when the setting sun is making long purple shadows in the woodlands, the deer move seeking food.

Deer have the ability to lower their metabolism in the winter to require less food. Cedar boughs is one of their favorite mainstays.

By February, a whitetail’s body starts to need more calories — especially the does that were bred in November.

Winter deer watching can be fun, relaxing and educational. You may even get to be on a first name basis with some of your gray coat neighbors. Give the deer names because I’m sure they look at us through the window and give us humans names.

You can watch the bucks as they all gradually shed their antlers. The matriarch doe and her two shaggy, “collie”-looking, almost-yearling fawns will begin to feel like part of your family.

Winter is hard on the whitetails. It is hard to believe that they were designed for warmer climates. Deer moved into the North Woods years ago, after the virgin white pines were cut (at one time the now extinct eastern elk and moose were the deer of the U.P.). In some of the heavy snow belt areas the whitetail deer migrate southward to yard up in cedar swamps.

The gray coats are good neighbors, even though they leave their pellet lined trails through our woodlands. The grays wonder how many more snowfalls and how many more nights below zero before spring. The whitetails of Delta County are having a very good winter so far, with not much snow to battle and not too many frigid nights.

So as we are wondering how many more times will we have to plow the drive way and shovel the walk way this year, think of the deer.

Gray coat deer and woolen coat humans, together we will thrive. It is almost March.

——

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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