So what’s with all the incidents of bucks entangled by the antlers in recent weeks? I’ve written two different stories in the past month about rutting bucks in northeast North Dakota dragging around the severed heads of mating rivals after their antlers became entangled.
The most striking example occurred this week, when Jake Cosley of Pembina, N.D., came across a buck dragging around the head of an entangled foe.
Cosley was snowmobiling on the Red River south of Pembina when he came across the buck sprawled on the ice, firmly entangled with the head and antlers of its long-dead rival.
After shooting photos and video of the remarkable encounter, Cosley was able to free the surviving buck from the severed head of its foe. The odds of the buck making it through the winter might not be very good — one of its eyes was punctured, Cosley said, and the buck had bite marks on its hind quarters that most likely were left by coyotes — but its chances of surviving certainly are better than they would have been if not for Cosley’s assistance.
The other buck was completely eaten away, with only a strand of vertebrae hanging from its entangled head.
I had a chance to visit with Cosley by phone Thursday afternoon about the encounter, and he brought up a point that struck me, as well, when I first saw his photos and video.
Bucks lose their antlers every winter, yet the racks of the bucks Cosley encountered were intact.
“We’re getting to be pretty late in the year, and we’re finding very few deer that have shed any antlers yet,” said Cosley, 23, an avid outdoorsman. “A lot of times, they start to drop them even toward the end of bow season. That’s been done for a month now.”
You can read my column about Cosley’s encounter, including the video clips he shot, here.
Huns huddle to survive
Speaking of survival, I’m always amazed at how wildlife can survive the winter, especially under the extreme temperature conditions they’ve had to endure in recent days.
Much as I like winter, I’m not a big fan of the extreme cold and generally limit my time outdoors to trips between home and work. As I get older — and hopefully smarter — I’m less inclined to venture out once the mercury dips into the single digits or colder, and most of the people in my circle of friends and acquaintances approach winter the same way.
Pick your battles, as the old saying goes, and I’m content to wait for warmer weather to do the things I enjoying doing outdoors.
Wildlife, however, don’t have that option.
One of the most striking images of winter wildlife survival came earlier this week from Gary Lund of rural Roseau, Minn., who shared the photo above of Hungarian partridges huddled into a feathery ball near one of the feeders he keeps in his yard for grouse, partridges and other birds.
It’s hard to tell by the photo, but Lund says 10 Huns are gathered in the photo.
I’ve never witnessed anything quite like the photo Lund shared, but I have on several occasions seen Huns gathered in rosette-like formations right out in the open with nothing but their tiny bodies to keep the cold at bay as they huddle in the snow.
Sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse will burrow down into the snow to stay warm. More than once over the years, I’ve been startled while snowshoeing by the explosion of a grouse as it erupts from its snowy roost.
It’s an exhilarating experience to be sure.
Despite the cold temperatures, the lack of snow in most parts of Minnesota — and North Dakota — likely has helped lessen winter’s impact on wildlife. In Minnesota, the Winter Severity Index, a measure of days with ambient temperatures of 0 degrees F or colder and 15 inches or more of snow on the ground, remains in the lowest category of 50 or lower everywhere but the far northeast part of the state and a small block south of Lake of the Woods, where the WSI is in the range of 51 to 79.
As the DNR explains, end-of-season WSI values less than 100 indicate a mild winter, while values higher than 180 indicate a severe winter.
The DNR’s weekly snow depth update shows snow depths in northwest Minnesota ranging from a mere 2 to 4 inches in the extreme northwest to a range of 12 to 15 inches in the Roseau and Lake of the Woods areas. There are a couple of pockets in the far northeast with 18 to 24 inches of snow, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
March can pack a wallop, especially when it comes to snow and blizzards, but the WSI numbers to date are encouraging as we approach the midpoint of February. Days are getting noticeably longer, and even on the coldest days, the sun has more power than it had a few weeks ago.
So hang in there, peeps, warmer days are coming.