I really enjoy observing deer and their signs in a winter woods. For many years I took students on trail walks in Carver Park Reserve, near Victoria, where we would find fresh tracks, plus deer trails and beds in the snow, along with scat and browsed twigs. Deer begin dropping their antlers this time of year, and we would find them in the snow. The frosting on the cake was seeing a deer. If not, each student at least felt the presence of deer by all the signs we observed. That was exciting.

Now that the mating season is over, whitetailed deer continue their quest to survive. Deer have keen senses, including excellent eyesight and hearing, but they rely heavily on the sense of smell, as many mammals do, to understand their world. They are constantly sniffing the air.

Deer have strict territories, and most live within an area of 50 to 300 acres, depending on the food supply and amount of cover. Deer survive because they know their territory well. If one is chased by a predator it stays within its territory, bounding on trails through familiar tree stands and brush.

Deer are constant browsers. Each winter day they eat 5 pounds of food for every 100 pounds of weight. They browse thin twigs for buds and new bark. Among their favorites are northern white cedar, sugar maple, basswood, sumac, and redosier dogwood.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.