Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Winter Sport

Prairie blizzards have always hit wildlife hard. Even the bison, facing into the gales with winter-proofed heads and shoulders, suffered and died. Winter storms were probably one of the major checks that limited the vast herds before the arrival of gunpowder.

The blizzards can be tough on prairie deer which may starve, freeze, or even smother if they can't find shelter. In the wake of one Dakota blizzard, a game biologist friend found a blinded fawn standing near a road, its face covered with a mask of ice. He caught the little deer easily, broke away its icy blindfold, and freed it. Prairie deer usually drift before a blizzard and seek shelter in river breaks or in timbered creek bottoms. If those timbered bottoms are narrow, as they usually are, they can become deathtraps where the deer perish in twenty-foot drifts that bury browse and shelter.

The tough little pronghorn antelopes seem better fitted to brave prairie blizzards than are deer, for pronghorns tend to avoid such deadly little balleys. Given any freedom of movement, antelope may move uphill toward higher ground where ridges are swept clear of snow. There they can usually survive in spite of cold and wind, for they are superbly equipped with thick coats of hollow hair. Herds of healthy antelope can be found feeding on open ridges after a blizzard has decimated local deer.

Out Home by John Madson

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