Nature Table for November: Deer Hunting

Nature Table for November

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

With fall’s chilly air and crisp, frosty mornings, have come changes in the ways in which local creatures interact with the landscape. Frogs and salamanders have buried themselves in blankets of thick mud, birds have started to migrate south (leaving space for their Canadian neighbors to stop by), and mammals have embarked on the final push to collect goodies to tide them over through the winter. Fall brings about a change in the ways in which humans interact with the landscape, too. Just as creatures sense the coming winter, humans also brace themselves for the changes that lie ahead. These days, we humans have most of our overwintering needs met by the marvels of modern technology which bring us ripe tomatoes in December and other unseasonable joys. Despite the ease with which we can find fresh sustenance during these modern winters, many folks still stock up for the off-season by preserving and preparing foods they’ve grown or gathered themselves. The agrarian elements of our ingrained need to stock up for winter have held out. This month, our nature table focuses on an element of the fall season that, despite its usefulness in preparing families for winter, has waned significantly in popularity over the course of the past two generations.

Deer hunting was once commonplace amongst the hills and valleys of western Massachusetts. Deer (and their elk cousins), were hunted long, long before European settlers even dreamed of coming to North America, and the seasonal hunt of deer was important in the diets of New Englanders for centuries. As deer populations have declined and meat has become easier to obtain, the need for hunting has died out and, despite its significance within rural culture, the tradition of hunting has died out, as well. Many families still hunt, and Massachusetts does have both bow and shotgun seasons for deer. The tradition has not disappeared, but it has become less and less visible as local culture has evolved.

Whether your family hunts or not, deer season presents a host of learning opportunities. Even if you don’t intend to ever obtain a hunting license, learning to think like a hunter can lead to the discovery of deer beds, trails, scat, sheds, and perhaps even a real life deer. Deer sleep in groups, and their beds can be found and identified in local fields and meadows if you know where to look. Deer trails look like subtle paths made by human trekkers, but don’t have a very high clearance underneath trees. Deer paths have far more branches around human eye level that we’d ever stand for! The creatures’ scat, quite similar to that of rabbits, is found in clusters of tiny pellets – each about the size of a human pinky fingernail. The oval shape and dark color of deer scat distinguishes it from that of rabbits. Perhaps the greatest deer treasure is an antler, though this time of year it’s not a strong sign of local deer activity. Deer shed their antlers in the springtime, making them a fantastic treasure but not a strong indicator of a deer presence in the fall. Small mammals often make a snack of antlers, gnawing away at the nutrient-rich layers of bone. Antlers found in fall usually include some sign of mammal feasts – they’re the multi-vitamins of the small mammal world.

This month’s deer-centric nature table includes:
– antlers, both gnawed and un-gnawed
– jawbone with teeth
– skull
– scat
– fur
– apples with bite marks

Titles to support further study of deer and hunting in general include:
The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins
Deer at the Brook by Jim Arnosky
Deer Hunting With Daddy by Jeanna Rosen
Deer Hunting for Kids by Matt Chandler

Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011. She is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin lives and teaches 5th grade in the Hilltowns of Western MA and serves on the Mary Lyon Foundation Board of Directors.


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