As I blog this, I look out the window at 10 inches of snow on the ground. It’s 19 degrees…and this is Virginia. I saw where snow is on the ground in 40 of 50 states. In the Midwest and Northeast it’s particularly cold and snowy, and has been for months. No doubt the whitetails there are under tremendous stress, having trouble finding food under deep snow, and fighting to maintain body heat that is critical to their survival.
We hunters wonder and worry: How are the herds doing?
Two scientists from frozen regions weigh in. “After a tough winter that had a (negative) impact on deer numbers in 2013, this certainly isn’t what any of us had hoped for,” says Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin big game ecologist. According to Kevin, the 2012-13 winter started out fairly mild, but late, significant snows and cold temperatures occurred well into May, resulting in losses of deer and lower than average fawn production. “With deer numbers already low in some areas, this winter is going to slow the recovery of the northern herd,” says Kevin.
QDMA biologist Kip Adams, who lives in Pennsylvania, says: “I suspect most deer are all right thus far, but what happens from now to green-up will be what really decides their fate. Research from the University of New Hampshire shows adult does enter winter with about a 90-day fat supply, and fortunately most winters don’t last longer than 90 days – at least not from a deer’s perspective. From a human’s perspective – yes, but deer are much tougher than we are.”
“A brutal January and February followed by an early green-up can result in minimal impacts to deer. Conversely, an easy January followed by a hard February and late green-up can have much harsher impacts on deer. Even though it’s been tough, it’s too early to tell what the impacts will be from this winter. A month from now we’ll have a better idea, and 2 months from now we’ll be able to make a great prediction on what we’ll see as far as fawns this summer and deer this fall.”
Bottom line: There will most certainly be some winter mortality, especially with sick or injured deer. But what happens from now on is the real key. We need the weather to break and the snow to melt the next couple of months. But if it stays cold and snowy/icy into early spring…not good for the herds or us.
Game departments are asking the public to report any observations of winter deer mortalities, and so am I. How is the cold/snow where you live and hunt? How do you think your deer are doing?