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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

Caution needed when around wildlife

White-tailed deer, like all wild animals, are unpredictable and at times dangerous, as amply demonstrated last week when a seven-year-old eastern Ohio boy was attacked by a buck.

The youngster, Brandon Hiles, was playing a game of backyard football in Wintersville, just outside the Ohio River town of Steubenville in Jefferson County. He told local police he encountered the buck when the ball rolled into the woods while he was playing with friends. The boy said the buck ran at him and flipped him with its antlers, leaving bruises and a gash.

A nine-year-old buddy beat the deer with a stick to make it go away, and police later explained that two bucks apparently were preparing to spar, and the boy was attacked when he inadvertently got between them.

The incident serves as a stern reminder to respect wildlife and enjoy it at a reasonable distance. In this case, the boy's close encounter was inadvertent and accidental. But it underscores the fact that large, mostly wary, and usually harmless wild creatures can be a safety hazard. Just ask any motorist who has clobbered or been clobbered by a deer.

Even bears, coyotes, and bobcats generally pose no threat to humans - unless acclimated by artificial or hand feeding. They do not know where the treat leaves off and the hand begins.

In short, let's lose the fuzzy-wuzzy petting-zoo mentality and give wild creatures the space they deserve. To think you are somehow "communing" with animals by willful close encounters is asking for trouble and is pure foolishness.

Several outdoorsmen I have known were gored by bucks during the rutting season. One of them, Kim Heller, a photographer for the Ohio Division of Wildlife a generation ago, died from an infection from the gashes and puncture wounds he received from the buck's antlers.

Another well-known northwest Ohio outdoors writer, the late Hob McKarns of Bryan survived a buck's attack but suffered a serious if glancing gouge from a rutting buck. A tough old country boy used to handling livestock and horses, McKarns grabbed the buck's antlers and wrestled it into a position in which he could get free. But he was left with a hellacious scar on his ribcage, one that made for great campfire tales.

So, pay attention around deer or any wildlife. Bites from raccoons, skunks, even squirrels can be nasty. Always seek proper medical attention. My late friend Heller waited too long and it was too late.

Ohio's annual acorn crops, which feed more than 90 forest wildlife species, have set two different tables this fall, the Ohio Division of Wildlife said.

White oak acorn production declined by 15 percent over 2008, while red oak acorn production increased by 11 percent.

"White oak acorn production declined across much of the state, but this will be at least partially offset by increased red oak acorn production," said Suzie Prange, a division forest wildlife biologist. "In general, acorn production for both white and red oaks was better in the northern than southern portion of the state."

The division of wildlife is currently participating in a multi-state research project to estimate regional acorn production throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Wildlife biologists hope to use the acorn production information to forecast wildlife harvest and reproductive success rates on a local and regional basis.

Acorn production is cyclical, with some trees producing acorns nearly every year, while others rarely ever produce. Wildlife employees scanned the canopies of selected oak trees on 38 wildlife areas in the state to determine the percentage of trees that produced acorns and the relative size of the acorn crop.

Results varied regionally, but an average of 26 percent of white oak trees and 41 percent of red oak trees bore fruit this year. Wildlife prefer white oak acorns, because red oak acorns contain a high amount of tannin and are bitter in taste.

Mass crop abundance can affect hunting plans as well. Hunters can expect to find deer, wild turkeys and squirrels concentrated near areas with heavy crops of white and chestnut oak acorns this fall. In areas with poor acorn production, these animals are more likely to feed around agricultural areas and forest edges.

Access to the wildlife area road at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, between the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center parking lot and the Magee lakefront beach area and marsh boardwalk will be closed weekdays and Saturday mornings until noon on November 28.

Additionally, the wildlife area road also will be closed during the youth deer hunt scheduled on Nov. 21 and 22.

For the remaining Saturdays and Sundays during this period, access to the beach area and wildlife trails will be open on Saturdays from noon until sunset and Sundays from sunrise to sunset.

The closure during other hours is being done to permit the area's use for the waterfowl hunting seasons.

Contact Steve Pollick at:

spollick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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