Back before my neighborhood was overrun with wild turkeys, I had a ten year record of predicting the amount of snow the upcoming winter would have by watching the local apple trees.
Right around the middle of August one year, I noticed that apple trees that were not used by people to harvest apples were missing most of their fruit from the bottom, to about six feet up. And in most cases there was not an apple to be found on the ground either. Upon closer inspection I would typically notice sure signs of deer activity. Tracks, scat, and chewed apples.
The following March while I was shoveling the tops off the snow bank for the umpteenth time. Then I happened to noticed my own tree had been stripped of apples as well, and I had seen deer in the cedar trees standing on their hind legs with their necks stretched as far as they could reach to get at the boughs. (If you are ever in an area where there is, or had been a lot of deer in the past, you will notice that pines, and furs will be bare from the base, to a height of 7 feet or so…This is the result of deer over browsing those trees.)
The following winter, while hunting snowshoe hares on bare ground in January I noticed that the hares were in abandoned apple orchards, and for good reason. The ground was littered with apples, and the trees still had fruit clinging to the branches from top to bottom.
That was when I made a note to pay attention to the apple trees in late summer. Depending on how many apples the deer had consumed prior to the first snowfall, and how early they started in on them, I had a pretty good idea of what the snowfall amounts would be.
In years where there were plenty of apples come “gunnin season” you could be assured that there would either be a lower than normal snowfall, or there would be several warm stretches that melted most of the snow cover away.
But come the first day of school, if the only apples to be found were high in the treetops, better lay in a good supply of rock salt, make sure your “winter beater” had good tires on it, and keep your shovel handy. No apples meant you could count on there being heavy snow, or cold temperatures. Temperatures that were so cold, it kept every single flake that ever fell from the first November flurry, to the wet March blobs that fall before the rains set in.
For a good four or five years, I honed my predicting skills, and shared my secret carefully. People would be scraping the snow off their roof terrified that if they left any up there, bigger storms would bring the rafters in on them while they was having their coffee, and reading the Bangor Daily News. Meanwhile I’m just letting it pile up.
Concerned neighbors would pull up while I was checking the mail.
“Hey theyah fella! You best be gettin that snow offin yer trailah theyah! I got one of them roof rakes if ya wanna borrie it!”
“I appreciate the offer, but I’m betting the worst of it is over, but I’ll be sure to stop by if we get too much more snow, and take you up on it. I’ll even let you help if you want!”
“Suit yerself! I just hate to see that roof come down on ya some monnin, ” he’d say as he drove away shaking his head.
A week later the temperature would rise a good 20 degrees, the eves would start dripping, and after a few days of 40 degree temps in January my roof would be clear.
Another time I’d see somebody out on the lake ice fishing just after Christmas, and I’d tell em,
“Better get some blocks under that shack, or your gonna get froze in when the snow starts! Out here in the open, with this wind?”
I’d get a reply along the lines of,
“I been fishin this spot for years, aint had to block her up yet, I don’t magine I’m gonna worry about it now!”
Sure enough, by New Year’s Day, a storm would blow in and drop a winter’s worth of snow in a day or two. Next time I am out on the lake, the ice is bare in most places, but the guy in the shack is out there with a shovel, and a big steel bar trying to lift his shack out of the packed snow so he could get it up on blocks.
Then I began telling my wife, and when I was right, she’d happen to mention it to somebody. Then just a few years ago I started sharing my predictions with anybody that cared to listen, and a few people that I forced into it.
For more than ten years I had a perfect run, I mean sure, some seasons would have a normal snowfall, but I never said there would be an easy winter that ended up rough, and I never called for a rough winter that was average or below. The deer seemed to know what they were doing!
Then we moved to Stetson, and one day I drove by about fifty turkeys in an old apple orchard. They were in the trees, and on the ground, and they were eating apples. On the return trip, the turkeys were gone, but they had stripped a dozen apple trees of every single piece of fruit they could find!
Now wildlife biologists will tell you that deer and turkeys do not compete for food. Me? I’ll tell you that those biologists may know a lot about what comes from books, but when it comes to logic, they are lacking pretty hard!
In this part of the state, there are not so many abandoned orchards as there are in the southern part of the state, and the oak trees are few and far between. Growing up and hunting in the Bath area I knew if you wanted to find deer, you headed for the oaks, or the apples. More often than not you could easily find both on the same patch of woods.
Up here north of Augusta??? I’ll be the first to tell you I HAVE NO IDEA how the deer survive the winter up here! (OK, I DO have an idea, but I bet eating frozen apples and acorns is a MUCH better way to live out the winter than eating sticks and pine needles…But then again? I’m not a deer!)
All I know is this: Deer love apples and acorns, and turkeys love apples and acorns. Deer wander along their home range nibbling here and there. Turkeys swarm into an area like giant rats with wings, and vacuum up every edible thing they can find before moving on.
I have two old apple trees at my place that produce bitter hard apples. I have a small group of deer that visit my trees from August until spring thaw, as long as there are apples on the trees, or under them. For some reason I don’t have turkeys, and that is fine with me. I guess wild turkeys, and free range chickens don’t get along? Or maybe they are scared of the ape that has been spotted here?
Anyway! The turkeys skewed my predictions, because most of the trees I would see were along the same routes we drove, and if there were lots of turkeys, the apples were always gone.
So I made one last prediction of a VERY HARSH winter! And then announced my retirement, naming turkeys as the reason.
That summer the deer were eating even the teensiest of apples. Even in early August you could see them raiding the trees. By September there was no guessing…The apples were simply gone. Every wild tree I saw was barren as high as the deer could reach, and the fields were full of fat deer eating grass like there would be no tomorrow.
That was the winter of 2009 I believe, or thereabouts. All I know for sure is it snowed, and it snowed, and it snowed some more. I recall one storm lasting four days of near constant snowfall.
The seasons after were not very friendly either, and the deer were hit hard. Come spring time, the remaining turkeys were hit even harder! Wet springs with lots of rain meant eggs would rot in the nests, and hatchlings would either catch a chill, or turn their beaks up to the rain and drown. GOOD RIDDANCE I say!
Along the eight miles into Newport from our house, we would and flocks of turkeys in just about every field. The smallest flocks numbering twenty birds or so, with larger flocks uncountable.
Now we go days without even seeing a single turkey. So last summer I came out of retirement! I shouldn’t have… Last year there were more apples on the trees, and on the ground than I had ever seen! I predicted the mildest winter we had seen in many years…As you may recall, it was NOT mild…It was not mild AT ALL!!! We got several small snows, and a few big ones, and the bitter cold locked it in tight! Apparently the deer in my piece of the woods hadn’t fared to well either.
This year I am still seeing tons of apples, in the trees, and on the ground, but I am not seeing deer at all. My tree beside the road is loaded, but I haven’t seen a deer track in the sand since some time last fall. So I am going to return to my retirement, and I likely wont hunt deer in my neighborhood, it appears they could use a break.
But if you see deer in your neighborhood all the time, and you have some apple trees nearby? THIS is the time of year to make your predictions! If there are apples on the ground, and the lower branches of the trees, be ready for a mild winter…But if the trees are bare, and the ground is too? Well! Better put in an order for a few extra bags of pellets, store a few cans of gas for the generator, and make sure them snow tires got plenty of tread Bub! Cause its gonna snow HARD!