Deer Professor Karl V. Miller Answers Your Questions

WHY DO A LOT OF GUYS THINK THAT DEER HUNTING IS A MAN'S SPORT? I'M 17 AND A GIRL, AND I HUNT JUST AS WELL AS MY MALE COUSINS. KAT WILKERSON, SOUTHAVEN, MISS.

In the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 12 percent of males and 1 percent of females ages 16 and older hunted in that year. Of the 13 million total participants in the sport, 91 percent (11.8 million) were male and 9 percent (1.2 million) were female.

While this data shows that the vast majority of hunters are male, it certainly does not mean that men are better hunters than women. I'd suggest that you just ignore your cousins or anyone who thinks otherwise. It's been my experience, in fact, that many women are better hunters than men. Patience--a quality that women are frequently blessed with to a greater degree than men--and less of a tendency toward macho, competitive posturing are both helpful attributes for hunters. Keep hunting and I'm sure you'll get a trophy that will shut their mouths for good! And send us a picture when you do.

PERHAPS YOU CAN SETTLE AN ARGUMENT FOR ME. WHEN I HARVEST A DEER, I'VE NOTICED THAT IT HAS DOZENS, MAYBE HUNDREDS, OF SMALL BUGS IN THE HAIR BETWEEN THE HIND LEGS AND ON THE BRISKET. MY HUNTING PARTNER INSISTS THAT THESE INSECTS ARE TICKS. I DON'T AGREE BECAUSE THEY'RE NEVER ATTACHED TO THE DEER'S SKIN. WHAT ARE THEY? BILL KELLEY, HENDERSON, N.C.

You're right, he's wrong. The bugs that you see are a type of wingless fly called a deer ked, or louse fly. Winged forms of adult keds emerge in the fall and fly about in search of deer. As soon as the ked finds a host, the wings detach and the ked takes a blood meal. It mates on the deer and remains throughout the winter and into the spring or summer. That's when the female deposits a fully formed larva in the hair. The larva immediately pupates and falls to the ground, where it will develop into an adult fly.

Keds do not seem to cause any ill effects on deer. They will also bite humans, although this appears to be fairly infrequent. The bite is painless but can produce an itchy welt that may last for a couple of weeks.

WHY DO DEER NEED FOUR STOMACHS? RANDY MILLER, CORNELL, WIS.

Deer do not actually have four stomachs. Their stomachs, rather, are composed of four parts. Animals with this digestive system (such as cows, goats, and sheep) are called ruminants. A four-chambered stomach is designed to maximize foraging efficiency. It allows deer to consume a lot of food quickly and then retire to more secretive environments to digest.

After being swallowed, food enters a large compartment called the rumen, which makes up about 80 percent of the stomach. There, trillions of bacteria and protozoa help the deer digest their high-fiber diet. The material is constantly mixed by strong contractions. Interestingly, this fermentation also produces a lot of gas, so deer belch frequently.

The second part of a deer's stomach is the reticulum, which has a honeycombed inner lining. One of its functions is to help bring food back up to the mouth for more grinding, a process that is commonly referred to as "chewing the cud."

Next, food passes to the omasum, which absorbs more nutrients and further reduces the particle size and water content. The fourth compartment, known as the abomasum, is the deer's "true" stomach, and it functions in a very similar manner to yours.

Submit questions, including your name and home-town, to deerquestions@yahoo.com.

REASON TO SMILE: Hunter Danny Soldan, 14, of Michigan, posing with two huge bucks.