Snow, cold causing deer concerns
The heavy snow that has fallen in parts of Minnesota this winter is causing concerns about the potential for deer mortality.
Mark Johnson executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association in Grand Rapids, Minn., said the early onset of winter comes on the heels of two of the lowest deer harvests in several years.
Preliminary numbers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources show hunters killed about 144,000 deer during the firearms season, a 6 percent drop from 2012. Final numbers will be available late this month.
"Last winter was a long winter that hurt the deer," Johnson said in a recent interview. "It wasn't a severe winter, just long, and that made it severe. This year, it's already looking like it's going to be a long winter. It started early."
The DNR in its weekly snow depth map Thursday indicated all of northwest Minnesota has 8 to 18 inches of snow, with pockets near Bemidji as deep as 2 feet. Portions of the Arrowhead in northeast Minnesota already have as much as 3 feet of snow, the DNR reported.
"If we get more snow, there's a real fear that's going to drive the deer population even lower," Johnson said. That could have serious implications on deer management, he added.
For now, the situation is less severe in northwest Minnesota, where vigilance is the key word, managers say.
"It's one of those things where you want to pay attention in terms of deer, but we don't have real tough conditions yet," said Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River Wildlife Management Area near the Canadian border. Our snow depths are just under a foot on the level in the woods, 10 to 11 inches, and about 15 inches and above is where (deer) start getting really stressed for their movements.
"In this immediate area, we're OK yet, but one significant snowfall could change that."
The brutal cold that has characterized the first part of the winter is of some concern, Prachar said, but there've been previous years when the deer came through OK despite extended periods of extreme cold.
"We're coming out of a couple winters where we had some severity so it may not take as much winter to affect the population," Prachar said. "It would have been nice to have a break this winter to recover the population some, and I'm not sure we're going to get that. We'll see what happens through the middle of the winter."
The snow is good for species such as ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, which roost in the snow to escape the cold, Prachar said.