Happy New Year


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.

  1. Happy New Year to you as well. I just happen to be sitting on the WordPress site trying to learn how to use it and it’s all your fault for exposing me to it.

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. Sam Menard said:

    Bruce, I found your blog and am enjoying reading your posts. Question for you, did the NW ontario deer herds suffer the same fate as the deer did in the rest of the province? I started hunting Rainy River in the early 1980’s and I wonder what the history was before then.

    • The winter of 2013-14 was hard on deer all across Ontario, and in many mid-west and eastern US states, and, I’m guessing, over much of eastern Canada. It was a long, cold and snowy winter, over a huge swath of the continent, and deer take a hit from winters like that. I’m working on a paper on deer and moose population fluctuations in NW ON (mostly Kenora area), and the data I’ve looked at says deer were absent (at best, rare) here until the late 1800’s, were common by the 1920’s, and abundant just after the war. There were some ups and downs in the 50’s and 60’s, then a major crash in the late 1970’s. It took a number of years to recover after that, and again during the 80’s and 90’s, ups and downs but upward tending. It looks like deer peaked in 2007 or 8, and it’s been in slow decline since. Major crash last year.

  3. Sam Menard said:

    Thanks for the reply, I just re-read my question and realized that I forgot to include “during the 1970’s” in my question.. No worries as you answered it anyway. In your paper, will you be suggesting any correlation between populations trends and environmental factors e.g. weather, logging? As you well know, habitat is constantly changing, and I’m inclined to believe that loss of habitat brought on by excessive logging may have contributed to the decline of the deer herds in WMU 10. There, it seems like every landowner with any acreage had their properties logged off. When you add the logging on Crown land on top of that, there’s not many large tracts of upland timber left in many places down there.

  4. yes I am looking at habitat. WMU 10 does not have much conifer cover left, so it resembles southern MB and SK. Like those provinces, WMU 10 deer numbers go up and down in a dramatic fashion. At least it’s a very fertile WMU (10), so given the chance, deer recover quickly. It doesn’t take a lot of conifer cover to help, though, and I don’t think WMU 10 is a basket case by any means. But when the winters are severe, it’s just bad news for deer, even when habitat is optimal.

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