The worst kind of “help” for deer

When natural foods become scarce over the winter, many of us feel sorry for the deer and want to ease their suffering. When we see hungry animals, we might want to feed them, just to help. But no matter how well-intentioned, putting out food for deer and other big game animals can cause tremendous harm. (Here in Montana, it’s also illegal to intentionally feed big game.)

That’s why I’m sharing my latest Montana Outdoors article, “Death by Feeding: The unintended—and sometimes fatal—consequences of providing food to deer, elk, moose, and other wildlife in winter.” I think many people who feed deer love wildlife and are just trying to help. Unfortunately, those efforts can backfire, in more ways than I could have imagined before I started researching this story. I had no idea that a large enough dose of high-carb food, when an animal’s gut bacteria are adapted to a sparse, low-carb winter diet, could cause a painful digestive disease that can kill a moose in one or two days. I had no idea just how big a role backyard feeding could play in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a slow but certain killer that can affect entire populations of deer.

Fortunately, there are ways we can help deer, elk, and moose through the winter; I’ve included some suggestions from wildlife biologists in the article. But one of the most important ways we can help is to not put out food for them.

If you read the article, please spare a minute for the sidebar on nonnative yews, popular but highly toxic landscaping plants that have also killed big game–including a herd of 50 pronghorn in Payette, Idaho. I have found these at my local nursery with no warnings on the label.

Parents Magazine Best of Travel 2021

Parents June 2021 issue

My thanks to Parents magazine for asking me to be a judge for their “Best Vacations for Kids: Parents’ Travel Awards 2021,” which also appears in the June 2021 print issue. I’ve gotten some good ideas from this myself! (I didn’t weigh in on all the award categories–just the ones where I thought I could help.) I don’t consider myself an expert in national parks, but I do love them, and I worked for the NPS for around eight years and have visited about 40 NPS sites, including 15 national parks. And yes, I’ve written a couple of kids’ guides for national parks (Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon), so I know some areas much better than others.

One of my favorite things about national parks is the wildlife, and there were many fine contenders for the magazine’s “best for spying animals” category. But I tried to see everything through the lens of traveling with kids. Just south of Yellowstone, which is justifiably known for wildlife watching, Grand Teton National Park has a similar complement of species and some great opportunities to see a variety of animals without putting on as many miles in the car. (For advice on where to look, see the park website, or check out my book, What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.) Many good areas for seeing wildlife–like the Antelope Flats Loop and the Moose-Wilson Road–are easy to access even if you’re staying in the town of Jackson.

And please remember, mid-day may be the busiest time for humans, leading to crowded roads and parking lots, but it’s often nap-time for animals. Usually the best strategy for seeing animals, as well as enjoying a busy national park, is to get the kids up early to explore, return to camp or the hotel if possible in mid-afternoon to relax, and head back out again later. You’ll see a different park than you would if you arrived the same time as everyone else.

Close to the vest

Some fly fishing spots, particularly on small streams, are so vulnerable you know you should keep them to yourself. But it’s hard not to say something, even if you have to obscure a few details. “No Name Creek, ” in Big Sky Journal’s Summer 2019 issue, is my story about returning to one of those secret spots–where you would least expect it–after a fire. The magazine should be available at newsstands any day now.

I still have to ask myself: Is that little gorge secret because it’s special, or special because it’s secret? I guess the answer to both questions is “yes.” So I’m not telling. Fortunately for you, the best places are the ones you find for yourself. So grab your maps, download Google Earth, and start looking for your own secret fly fishing spot. You don’t have to tell me where it is.


Random wildlife selfies

Don’t blame me for the focus on this photo. I wasn’t there. This whitetail buck took his own picture and then smashed his nose into my trail camera, which is now covered with teeth marks.

My family and I don’t use our trail cam for hunting; we use it for spying on our wild visitors. After a snowstorm last winter, I crisscrossed our land looking for tracks, then set up the camera along the busiest game trail. That first photo of an elk got me hooked. Later I aimed the camera at a retired fox den, which turned out to be a sort of wildlife crossroads, visited by skunks, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, coyotes, and not surprisingly, foxes.

My trail camera photos and videos are modest, all taken in my big backyard. But I couldn’t resist giving them their own Trail Cam page. (As I’m not on Facebook, where else am I supposed to share my blurry skunk pics?) If you want to see more impressive trail camera footage, visit the Mission Valley Grizz Cam. Amazing bears.