As most of us have feared, this winter looks like it could be a doozy for our white-tailed deer population. I suppose after a handful of mild winters we are now paying our dues, so to speak.
And bitter cold temperatures this year are the least of the deer’s problem. They can handle the cold but it’s the snow I’m worried about!
Snow conditions, with a weak crust formed by our mid-winter melt and pack, make travel and escape more difficult than usual. So far, we are a long way off the massive snow depth experienced back in 2008- 2009, but with higher than average snowfall this winter and a meagre crust unable to support a deer’s weight, times are tough indeed!
Our friend imacdon has witnessed the results first-hand in these graphic deer kill images taken around his property:
It is very disappointing to think that after more than 5 years of a population on the rebound, our whitetail herd could be in store for another big hit.
And with a healthy, relatively uncontrolled, predator population in eastern ON and western QC our whitetails will need to pull out all the stops this year in order to survive. Since December my trailcams have captured scant few deer images, even in the whitetail wintering area. The number of coyote images captured has; however, remained steady.
I know I am crossing my fingers for the deer this year….and my toes too!
So, what can we do to help? Here are three options (I’ve been practising option #2)
When carried out properly, supplemental deer feeding is a wonderful past-time and can be of benefit to these animals when snow depth reaches more than 1 metre. Finding the proper balance between protein and fibre for the deer’s diet can be tricky and without knowing it many backyard feeders may actually be hurting the animal’s chances of survival. If you had not started a feeding program during early season, it is probably too late to start now, as the animal’s digestive system would have needed to adapt to the supplemented diet.
2)Improved Access and predator control
There are other ways we can help deer during the colder months besides feeding. By creating new access trails and cutting fresh browse, we greatly increase their food availability and expand travel corridors. A network of hard-packed trails will serve as escape routes from predators. By improving access to winter habitat and cutting additional feed, we go a long way to helping these animals make it through the winter. For folks who are looking to help deer this winter, perhaps get out for a little coyote hunting in areas where it is permitted. It is a challenging sport and less predators around would also help the deer’s chance of survival.
3) Call upon MNR for assistance
Through the Emergency Deer Feeding Program - The MNR ‘s Snow Network for Ontario Wildlife looks at risk assessment and on the very rare occasion will implement an emergency feeding program in certain areas. Over the past 15 years, I believe I’ve only seen this program implemented once! During the winters of 2008-2009 when RECORD snowfall was recorded in Central Canada, no measures were put in place to provide aid to whitetail deer in Ontario. An estimated 30% of the population died-off in just two years!
For more information on the Snow Network for Ontario Wildlife: