It’s a New Year and the weather is definitely cold here. Woke up this morning and the thermometer read -35 C. That’s cold! Plus, it was windy. The good news, if you’re a deer, or an elk, or a number of small mammals, is that there isn’t much snow. Not like last year, when I took this photo of a fawn bounding across the field. Last year there was already around 50 cm of snow on the ground by early January, and had been for a couple of weeks.
Models suggest that when snow is deep and comes early in the north woods, deer losses will be substantial, and it appears the models were correct. The majority of deer hunters I spoke to or heard about had a hard time filling their freezer with venison in 2014 – several never did fill a tag. Not counting what I saw on our acreage, I only encountered 2 does and 1 buck (which I harvested) in more than two weeks of deer hunting. For several years previous, I saw between 80 and 150 deer over a similar time period, hunting the same general areas.
So deer numbers are down and what was even more remarkable was the dearth of big buck sign out in the woods. Many days I was hard pressed to see a deer rub, and those I did see were on ‘slaplings’. I don’t think I saw a dozen scrapes.
While the snow this year isn’t a problem as yet, and unlikely to become an issue, deer numbers are likely to be even worse next year (data here in NW Ontario suggests that when there isn’t much snow on the ground by early January, it’s highly unlikely there will be much snow accumulation for the duration of the winter, and if there is a big dump, it’s likely to be in late March or early April. The snow won’t linger or be much of a problem for the deer. And a cold winter, in the absence of deep snow, doesn’t seem to be a cause for concern).
The reason next year is likely to be even worse insofar as deer hunting is all about is over-winter loss to wolves. This winter will be hard on the wolf population, and many will starve, but not before doing a number on many of the remaining pockets of deer.
How long will it take the deer population to recover? Hard to tell. In the state of Maine, it once took 17 years for the deer herd to recover after a series of harsh winters resulted in a collapse of the population. I don’t think it will take that long, but it won’t happen overnight.
The good news is deer numbers in WMU’s to the south of Kenora seem to have held up better than they did in WMU’ s 6 and 7B.
The other good news is that with deer numbers lower (and fewer wolves), the food quality will be much improved (not so many hungry mouths to feed). That means bigger and healthier deer. And just maybe we will start to see the moose recover, and growth in our struggling elk herd.
Only time will tell.
And finally, to all my readers, have a good and prosperous 2015.