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Surrendering to a very morbid curiosity

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.

This article was published in the WON February 19, 2021 issue.


“You probably did not see that bald eagle that you flushed off those deer carcasses,” Stan said as I got back into the Suburban.

I had just returned from picking up the chip from a trail camera and checking my she-shed for any signs of Rocky, the flying squirrel, whom you met in a previous article. Thankfully, no Rocky. I was interested to hear that an eagle had flushed across the field. I have been obsessed with dead deer for the past two months. After deer season, I started moving trail cameras around to see what I could capture in the act of eating the dead flesh of deer.

Our party took two deer this season. After we finished processing them, we placed the carcasses about 100 yards across a corn field from my shed. My hope was to see bald eagles feeding on the skeletons. I did not put a camera there. I also have not seen anything I could identify. A couple of times, I have flushed a bird when coming in, but I never got a good look at it. Lately, there has been a lot of activity around those skeletons. The tracks in the snow were coyotes. Last week, one of the skeletons was dragged out into the corn field.

(note: camera date stamps are not correct

The other must have been dragged to the neighbor’s woods. I should mention here that we are not in a spot where CWD has been detected in wild deer. We have every deer tested. These were clean.

Another site we have been watching is the place where we field-dressed both of the deer. This spot was about 100 yards north of my shed and has turned out to be a bad plan. We have a rope and pully system at that spot for the purposes of field-dressing. I cannot let Major out of the truck near there as he is completely fascinated by those two gut piles. This means he has to be confined to the truck or my shed, if I go there to write. I had a camera on that area for a few weeks. There was almost no activity. The images showed a few crows. There has been a rooster pheasant hanging around there. Activity is picking up now. However, I discovered yesterday, that my ability to get there with my truck is finally being impacted by the amount of snow on the slope I have to traverse to get there. Perhaps I will share my yesterday’s adventure in another article.

The poor fortune of another hunter has turned out to be my good luck. Near the close of the deer season, we found a dead deer in the woods near my daughter’s stand. It was too late to salvage. So, after the “second rut” I moved a camera from one of my buck hot spots to a tree near the deer carcass. My ghoulish fascination with flesh-eating creatures was really rewarded at this spot. Interestingly, they have not hit it too hard. I don’t know if they did not find it before it froze, so it is harder to manage. Not to be too graphic here, but the hind quarters of the deer are what has been chewed. The deer is 95% still intact.

The variety of critters that are either eating or investigating the site is amazing. One big surprise is the number of deer that have come to look at their dead colleague. Made me wonder if there is a bit of the elephant in them. There was a lot of deer traffic early on, especially bucks. There have been crows and even a red-tailed hawk. I am not very proficient in hawk identification. And this one did not have some markings that would be typical. So, I sent the picture to Prof. Shelli Dubay at UWSP.

“I sent the photo to the Raptor Education Group for confirmation, but it looks like a red-tailed hawk. The lack of a black belly/chest band is throwing me off, she related.

The experts confirmed our analysis. My first red-tailed on camera.

(note: camera date stamp incorrect)

There have been foxes and coyotes. The most exciting thing on the dead buck though has been a fisher. It visited many times and we got lots of photos. Fishers are fairly large members of the same family as mink. Through history, they have been valued for their fur. There is a really interesting paper on fishers on the Wisconsin DNR website. Technical Bulletin 183, which was authored in part by my friends and colleagues, Prof. Neil Payne and retired WDNR Biologist Bruce Kohn, really gives you a complete history of fishers in Wisconsin up to 1993. As common as they are now, there was a time when they had disappeared from our landscape. From 1932 until a reintroduction plan that began in 1956, no fisher was sighted here. This is a success story. We occasionally get them on camera. Once I called one in turkey hunting. It was stunned to discover that I had duped it into thinking I had feathers.

About 3 weeks ago, Major came hauling a deer leg into camp. I knew this was not from one of my camera sites, as he does not range that far from me. I headed in the direction he had come from and urged him to show me the deer. He took me right to it. It was a fresh coyote kill. The area was a war zone. The tiny deer (smaller than my 60-pound Airedale) was about half consumed. The snow was flattened, with blood and hair scattered about. This little fawn was obviously a late birth. We had seen a tiny spotted baby on camera in September. Perhaps this was the one. I decided the next day to move a camera. When Major and I got there, the coyotes had been in again. There was only the head, rib cage and one leg left. I was able to lift it with one hand. I put the remains up on broken pine snag that was taller than me. This, so Major would not eat it. Deer bones splinter and are a hazard. I placed the camera in a dead cherry tree about 4 feet from the carcass.

Yesterday, when I braved the deepening snow to check my cameras, I hit the fisher photo Powerball. I had dozens of pictures of a gorgeous fisher in every stage of venison enjoyment. As lucky as I was, that fisher was the really lucky one. Out there in the world, life is all about energy. He will never know that my morbid curiosity really reduced his competition for a free meal. The coyotes have moved on to the dead buck.

I wonder what my camera’s will show next.

(note: date stamps are incorrect)

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