A Farewell to Feeding

Buck in Velvet

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Velvet Closeup

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Triplet Fawns

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Wait up, Mom!

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Published on: Feb. 6, 2013

I checked my trail camera yesterday and found a few interesting things – a trio of coyotes on the hunt, a skunk ambling along and a bobcat prowling past – but not many deer. That’s understandable. Our woods don’t have many acorns this year, so I recon the deer have gravitated to areas with better foraging options.

I like keeping track of the deer in my neighborhood during the non-hunting season, so I automatically thought of stopping at the local farm store for a bag of shell corn. If I spread some golden kernels around the camera, within days, I’d have deer mugging like movie stars on Oscar night. But I didn’t do it, and I won’t. Not this year or ever again.

I have decided that feeding deer is a luxury I no longer can afford. It’s not the cost of the corn that’s stopping me. That is fairly cheap. No, it’s the cost to deer.

Under normal conditions, deer stay relatively spread out. They have social groups, but the limitations of food, water and cover keep the groups dispersed across the landscape. That isolation serves them well because it minimizes the potential for diseases to spread from deer to deer.

Last summer, we got a lesson in what happens when deer get too cozy with one another. Extreme drought statewide forced deer into close proximity around shrinking water sources. Midges – little biting flies that breed in moist places – suddenly had access to an abundance of food, and they feasted, flying from deer to deer. In the process, they spread the viruses that cause hemorrhagic diseases, creating the worst outbreak in years.

Hemorrhagic disease probably kills some deer every summer. Outbreaks are worse in drought years and in areas with dense deer populations. But hemorrhagic viruses have been around for as long as deer have been, and whitetails have developed a degree of resistance that allows disease and deer to coexist. That isn’t true of every disease.

Unlike hemorrhagic disease, chronic wasting disease (CWD) kills every deer it infects. Left unchecked, it spreads slowly but steadily. Wisconsin detected its first case of CWD in free-ranging deer in 2002. Eight years later, 23 percent of mature whitetail bucks harvested in the core area had the disease.

Missouri caught the CWD outbreak in Linn and Macon counties early, and we have the benefit of Wisconsin’s and other state’s experience in combatting the disease. The Conservation Department is taking decisive action to contain the outbreak. I am hopeful that we can do it. But hoping alone is not enough. CWD is a game-changer, and if we want to win, we have to change our thinking and our behavior toward deer.

CWD spreads mainly through nose-to-nose contact. Anything that brings deer together in unnatural concentrations increases the chances of nose-to-nose contact and tilts the playing field in favor of CWD. Artificial feeding brings deer together in artificially high numbers.

It isn’t just about CWD. There are other diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, that could cause problems for Missouri’s deer herd. The bottom line is that while artificial feeding is fun for people, it’s bad for deer.

That is why I won’t be baiting around my trail camera anymore. Instead, I will think less like a rancher and more like a hunter, placing my trail cam at trail crossings and other high-traffic areas to increase my chances of catching deer on camera. I urge you to do the same. It’s one thing we can all do to protect our deer.

To find out more about CWD in Missouri, visit

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On February 8th, 2013 at 8:16am mike okeefe said:

The 4 point rule was and is a contributing factor to the spread of cwd. Its also a loss of freedom to landowners and hunters.

On February 7th, 2013 at 2:25pm Thomas Kirby said:

Here is a much better explanation of CWD. Poisoning makes a lot more sense than self-replicating "prions."

On February 6th, 2013 at 10:22pm Pat said:

My daughter and son-in-law in Macon County (Kirksville) had to quit feeding the deer last year, because of CWD. Let's all work to get rid of this disease, and do all that the Conservation Dept. wants us to do to help.

On February 6th, 2013 at 9:33pm Anonymous said:

Last late last October on my farm in the Tipton Ford area, I started noticing fresh triangle shaped holes up to about 6" deep. I am in the river bottom along Shoal Creek. I kept thinking it was maybe a groundhog starting to dig a burrow and moving on. Most were in or along a row of trees along a drainage ditch. Then one day while working I saw something strange moving slowly, stopping to dig, then moving again, digging again. From 50-60 yards away it looked like a very very large groundhog with weird hair on it's back. Twice the size of the largest groundhogs in my area! I had my binoculars because I was keping an eye out for deer. With the binoculars I recognized it right away, a porcupine!! I've lived there for over 55 years and never heard of one being around at all. I watched it for quite a while, without a doubt it was a porcupine. I elk hunt in CO and have walked right up on them scouting in the summer, sometimes I've seen them out there about 6' up on an aspen tree. I haven't seen it since and the strange holes quit as suddenly as they started! I was just wondering, how many sightings of porcupines are there in SW MO? How rare is this sighting of mine? It was heading in the direction of and went into the Tipton Ford Access Area, it was in the same place as where I saw a young cougar last March and also watched it for quite a while with my binoculars, it was trying to sneak up on a couple of Angus heifers but apparently changed it's mind, went back in the CA!

On February 6th, 2013 at 7:48pm John Powell said:

I completely agree, I have read a lot on the spread of CWD, and seen first hand the damages it can do, with any species in high concentrations disease will spread more rapidly. The baiting of deer to an area for trail cam pictures can be counterproductive in my opinion to both the hunter and the deer.
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