White-tailed deer are the most commonly seen big mammals along the Appalachian Trail. In some areas, such as Shenandoah National Park in Virginia where this photograph was taken, deer are quite prolific and often seen in herds or small groups roaming on or along the Trail. Seen throughout the day, deer are most active in the evening. They eat twigs and seedling trees as well as blackberries, blueberries, grasses, and ferns. The males cannot always be told by their antlers, as these drop off each early winter to be replaced the next spring. Large antler growth is as dependent on the health and diet of the deer as its age.
The beaver gnaws through tree trunks with its powerful teeth. The logs and branches are used to build a dam across a stream. Beavers can't hear well, so they continue building the dam until they no longer hear the sound of water. In the pond that forms behind the dam, the beaver colony builds a lodge of sticks and mud for the winter. Beaver dams have been known to flood the Appalachian Trail, putting beavers at odds with Trail builders from time to time.
Weighing 800 to 1,200 pounds or more, the moose is the largest member of the deer family in the world. At first glance the moose may look awkward or ungainly, but it can move stealthily through the forest and swim well on the many lakes in their habitat. Moose, other than a cow and her calves, are usually solitary animals, except in the summer months when they travel in small herds of up to eight moose. Hikers most often encounter moose on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, where they are seen feeding in the many ponds near the Trail. Moose should always be observed from a distance as they can act unpredictably at times.
Black bear are seen along the length of the Appalachian Trail, with the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks being two places where they are most commonly spotted by hikers.
Black bears do not truly hibernate, but spend long periods sleeping through the winter. Though a meat-eater, black bear also eat large amounts of grass and other ground plants. They also dig roots and bulbs and feed each fall on blueberries, blackberries and other wild fruits. They will hunt for small mammals including mice, but will also eat animals killed by other predators.
Bears must never be fed or petted. They can be particularly aggressive when protecting cubs and should not be approached. If you spot a bear, you can almost always frighten it away by making loud noise. Hanging up a bag each night with your food and other "smellables" in it will keep bears (and other animals) from rummaging through your pack or tent in search of food. The main problem hikers face with bears however is that they do not see them as often as they would like to.
Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia is home to a large herd of feral ponies. Though free ranging, the ponies are not completely wild. Each year they are rounded up and some of the herd is sold at an auction. This occurs during the fall festival which is held on the last weekend of September.
You are more likely to see signs of these nocturnal animals than the “porkies” themselves. Porcupines gnaw the wood on shelters and privies and will even prey on backpacks and boots in search of salt. The female gives birth to one baby each year. The baby is born with quills, which harden soon after birth. The babies are weaned within 3 months.