Record-Setting Snowfall Is A Dagger To The Already Low Minnesota Deer Population
This last November, for the first time in 20 years, I decided to give up on deer hunting. There have been so few deer at our hunting property that I decided it wasn't worth buying a license. Our zone once again for a few years straight was bucks only, because the Department Of Natural Resources is looking to increase the population. This snowfall isn't going to help.
There are a lot of factors in why the deer population is struggling. One of the most controversial is the fact that wolf populations continues to increase across the state. The wolves are protected federally, which means the DNR cannot allow a hunting or trapping season for the wolves.
Deer hunters across the state mostly blame the wolves for the poor deer numbers. I know from my personal experience that we have sighted wolves on our property. There were even reports on the Iron Range from Conservation Officers that hunters complained that they've seen more wolves than deer.
Factors that determine the winter deer mortality rate are outlined by the DNR:
- Snow depth above 15 inches
- Duration of winter and timing of spring green-up
- Quantity and quality of habitat and forage
- Sex and age composition of the deer herd
- wolf density and predation
- back-to-back severe winters
How The Deep Snow Affects The Deer Population
Snow deeper than 15 inches has a big effect on deer survival. It even affects them more than extreme cold temperatures, because the deer need to use more of their energy reserve to move. As of this morning in Duluth, Minnesota, this winter has officially become the 9th snowiest winter on record with 116" of snow.
With less energy reserves, it makes the deer physically weaker.
When deep snow freezes and forms a crusted layer at the top, wolves can run across it. Deer, however, punch through the deep snow with their hooves and are less mobile. That makes them an easier target for wolves.
History shows that severe winters can lead to over 30% of deer dying.
One of the most severe winters we encountered in Minnesota was the winter of 95-96. The winter severity index was over 180 on the scale, and 30% of the deer population died.
Before this last storm, the winter severity index was considered severe in many areas. The snow is now about a foot deeper than it was on March 8th.
Those areas in black were already considered severe, and after this most recent storm I'm sure many more areas will be added.
What does it take for the deer population to bounce back?
The DNR points out that deer are resilient and do have high reproductive rates. They say the deer population can bounce back in 3-4 years with normal conditions.