How Bad Was The Mule Deer Winterkill?

mule deerI recently attended the 2017 North American Deer Summit, where Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West. Jim said that while mule deer went through tough times in recent years, the good news is that muley populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.

But Jim did point to the hard, snowy winter of 2016-17 in some regions of the West, saying that “will lead to a dip in deer numbers this year in some states.” Well, turns out it will be quite a big dip in places.

U.S. News and World Reports has just published a compilation of how last winter impacted mule deer herds in 7 states. Here are some findings that jump out:

South-central Colorado saw high fawn mortality… estimates are that only 20 to 25 percent of fawns survived in the Gunnison Basin, mainly because of a large snowfall event…mule deer hunting licenses in the basin have been reduced by 60 percent for bucks and 80 percent for does.

Idaho saw its third worst winter for mule deer fawn survival in the past 18 years… But mule deer numbers across the state are still healthy enough to withstand the loss as long as next winter is milder.

Above-average losses of mule deer fawns were recorded in northern Utah, where only 10 percent of one herd’s fawns survived… The losses occurred despite the state’s efforts to provide food supplements to the deer. Snow depths exceeded 150 percent of normal in some areas.

In Wyoming, mule deer and antelope west of the Continental Divide suffered significant losses, probably the worst in more than 30 years… Many areas saw up to 90 percent loss of deer fawns and up to 35 percent loss of adult deer. Fewer hunting permits for mule deer and antelope will be issued this fall in western Wyoming.

 

2017 Deer Update: How Are Mule Deer Doing?

mule deerAt the 2017 North American Deer Summit last week, Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West.

Mule deer went through tough times in the 1990s, and populations declined in many areas. More than 20 years later most people still think mule deer numbers are down, “but actually there’s good news,” said Jim. “Mule deer populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.”

Jim pointed to Utah, Idaho and California as bright spots, with herds on the slight rise. But he did acknowledge that the winter of 2016 was brutal in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where there should be a “little dip” in deer numbers this year.

In the West, mule deer face unique challenges, such as expanded housing, energy and road development in herds’ migration routes and wintering areas; limited and changing water supplies; and changes in habitat and food sources. Major predators of the mule deer are the coyote (on fawns) and mountain lion.

Jim is particularly positive about the herds and the number of big, mature bucks in his home state of Arizona. “The big bucks are here in any given year.” Arizona manages their mule deer so conservatively—drawing a tag is tough—that there are always big deer on public ground. Also expect lots of huge public-land bucks this fall next door in New Mexico, where again pulling a tag is the biggest challenge.