ESCANABA - With cooler temperatures and the vibrant color changes in trees, there is no doubt that fall is in the air. It is a time when the minds of outdoors enthusiasts move off the water and refocus in the woods.
It is a time when wildlife goes through discernable changes as well, especially the whitetail deer.
In a study report (3209) issued from MDNR biologists John Ozoga, Bob Doepker and Mark Sargent, they indicate that "during late August through September, fawns are weaned and young deer grow rapidly. It is during this period that adult deer replenish energy stores in preparation for the breeding season and stressful winter period to follow. Deer gain weight in autumn by eating energy-rich foods high in digestible carbohydrates and fats such as acorns, beechnuts, apples, cherries, grapes, and a host of wild-growing and cultivated fruits. Farm crops such as corn, soybeans, sugar beets, alfalfa, rye, and winter wheat are highly preferred by deer, especially in southern Michigan. In addition, cool weather and autumn rains stimulate the growth of sheep sorrel, hawkweed, and grasses that attract deer to forest openings.
Dennis Grall |?Daily Press
A whitetail fawn is spotted near the 18th fairway at the Gladstone Golf Club earlier this season
Storing fat in autumn is a mechanism that enhances deer survival during the winter months when fat reserves can be metabolized for energy. Like other seasonal events in the whitetail's life, the accumulation of fat is cued to changes in the amount of daylight."
Changes in daylight also play a role in another anomaly of deer behavior.
As daylight begin to shorten in the third week of June, changes are subtle. By mid to late September, the impact seen on the male whitetail is strong.
The transition of less daylight - or photo period, triggers the increased production of testosterone in bucks. A sure sign is when they begin to shed the velvet from their antlers.
By now the annual bony growth of antlers has completed and the quality of the rack is mostly related to genetics. The development is mostly related to nutrition and once the velvet is shed, the almost white appearance stands out for all too see. It is a tool of dominance, used to fend off lesser males when challenged, if not to intimidate others.
Bucks shed their velvet by rubbing their antlers on brush and trees. That process later evolves to another ritual where antler rubbing is used to mark territory and is combined with ground scraping to apply scent and lure does for breeding.
With many deer being attracted to agricultural and forest openings that feature fall forage, it is a great pastime to ride out in the country and shine fields with an artificial light to see the deer in transition. In the early stages the bucks are not yet segregated from does, even though some are already feeling amorous.
Shining deer is an established family recreation permitted in Michigan. It can occur all months except November, and is not permitted on all other days of the year between 11 p.m-6 a.m. The only exception to the November rule applies to those who either own private land or are on land owned by a family member when shining occurs. You may not be in possession or control of a bow and arrow, firearm or other device capable of shooting a projectile.
It should be noted that those who possess a concealed pistol license are exempt, but that still does not permit or authorize the individual to use the pistol to take game except as provided by law.
You may not shine at any time on any national wildlife refuges.
Anyone using shining for recreation must be courteous and refrain from shining livestock and/or dwellings and buildings on farms. It might be advisable to ride a route you plan on shining later, to determine the proximity of these structures and avoid conflict. No matter what the circumstance however, you must immediately stop your vehicle when signaled to do so by any uniformed peace officer or marked patrol vehicle.
Most of the alfalfa fields, as well as those producing other grain, have been cut and allow easy view of deer. There remains a lot of standing corn, a popular food source for many species of wildlife, that will deter viewing.
Shining deer has been part of my family's annual recreation for over thirty years. When our children were young and little, my wife Mary Kay and I would dress them in warm pajamas and jackets (to handle cooler temperatures especially with the windows of the family Suburban down).
The kids would compete, one side of the wagon against the other to see who saw the most deer. Through the years we had pretty much established a route and no one was ever assured to have an edge over either side. What did happen was a transition of their falling asleep on the way home that meant several trips from the vehicle to bed upon return home.
Even with gas prices the way they are, it is to me a form of entertainment unmatched by anything seen on television or in a movie theater. It is also a recreation you can share with kids that brings you closer together in sharing the excitement of the night and seeing wildlife.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.