I honestly didn't know deer starved in winter. Now I'm considering putting out a feeder for them this winter. Though I'm not sure quite how to do that...
This is a very lovely piece. The horror of the piece contrasted with deer's usual image of cute little Bambi makes it extra jarring. You also did a good job on the dialogue-- the deer really sounds delusional with hunger and horrified both at its situation and at its own actions.
Its not just the lack of apex predators. Deer starve in the winter because there just isn't any food available. Deer like green things, buds, acorns, grasses and whatnot. These food items are just naturally limited in availability in the winter. That's why they spend all year gaining weight and putting on fat. There is a lot of fat to be found on a deer that is caught early in hunting season. But snow makes it harder to find these food items and when there is a lot of snow, deer can get snowed into their deer yards. This happened while I was in college. There was so much snow that winter, that the deer populations, dropped drastically. They were unable to leave their yard to forage. Deer also die when fed by people in the winter. Their gut flora just cant handle the hand outs, so they die bloated and starving with a full belly. (So please don't feed the deer).
It may sound horrible to us humans but starvation is a natural part of life. The weak die and feed the opportunistic. Those that live were the ones fortunate enough to put on enough fat in spring/summer/fall months to make it through and not die of disease and therefore get to give birth to the next generation. This IS the cycle of life whether we like it or not.
And even if there were wolves and mountain lions to help balance the deer populations (along with the human hunters and the coyotes), there would still be disease and starvation. These are just the tools nature uses to keep ALL populations in check.
I've lived my entire life in New England and went to college in Maine to get my degree in wildlife. Deer can't handle large snow drifts like the moose can. They just aren't that tall. As for predators, that would be the coyotes and the humans. The Eastern Mountain Lion is considered extinct around here, and there are no wolves (yet). Up here in Mass where I live now, many people disapprove of hunting of any kind, they don't want to see Bambi get shot, but they don't want him eating their landscaping either. So the deer are considered to be over populated. (at least in Mass). I've yet to see a starving deer either, but after a childhood of watching Wild America, and any wildlife program I could watch, I know and can accept that starvation is a part of the circle of life. The weak die (especially in winter) and the scavengers and other opportunistic predators feast on carcasses.
If the environment were plentiful as you put it, then they wouldn't starve or even go hungry. But up here in the winter, even a healthy environment has little to offer, and even less when there are feet of snow on the ground. But that is the norm. Starvation in extreme winters is the norm, especially true the further north you go.
What I said earlier still holds true though. Disease and starvation are a part of the natural order, right along side predation. When a population gets to big for its environment animals starve, die of disease, and while this is happening, the predator population catches up and increases as well. Then the prey population decreases again, and the predator population follows the same path of its prey; starvation, disease and a decreasing population. Even in warm places, you have the threat of extreme droughts and even wildfires. And when there are a few years in a row with good plant growth, there would be the population boom. This boom would be followed by a crash during the next extreme drought. Of course there could be many long years in a row where there is excellent plant growth. The environment still has a max of what it can hold sustainably. Once a population exceeds that threshold, regardless of climate or geography, disease and starvation increase along with predation. Disease and starvation are always there. They don't go away with location. The rates at which they appear increase and decrease with population size.
I have a question though. I've been to Texas, and the majority of the deer I saw there were on fenced in ranches for canned hunting. I know that there are many of these ranches in the south. They would be well fed on grain because those deer were bred for their trophy racks and are worth thousands of dollars. So my question is, how many of the deer you've seen been outside the fences?