Ask Dr. Dave: Will Bad Winters Kill Lots of Deer?

Ken W. from Michigan writes to ask about how deer survive hard winters. “We are getting another nasty winter here and I’m concerned about winter kill. We hear that deer can survive bad winters, but is that true? How much winter does it take to kill a lot of deer in an area?”

Dr. Dave Samuel
Dr. Dave Samuel

That is a good question Ken, and there are a ton of variables. If deer have access to good food and cover, they can do well in winter. But, if food is scarce, habitat depleted from over population of deer, and if you get extended periods of below zero weather, and if you also get deep snows that last for weeks at a time, then deer will die.

Another factor is predation. There is no question when you get deep snows and cold that restricts deer movement, wolves and coyotes can be a problem.

Penn State University has a very interesting deer blog that covers various studies they have going on. A recent blog followed a radio-collared buck before, during, and after a big snow storm in late February. As the storm approached, the buck moved one mile from his normal range to a secluded Southwest facing slope with lots of large hemlock trees and bedded down. It snowed 7 inches and he did not move more than 250 yards for three days. After the storm passed he moved three miles east for three days, then went six miles back to his original location where he remained the rest of the year.

I cannot answer how this all fits into the area where you live, because there are so many factors that will determine winter mortality for deer.

 Guide Outdoors Readers in cold-weather states: Any comment on how the deer are doing where you reside … are you seeing as many as in a “normal” winter? Please comment below.

If you have a question for Dr. Dave Samuel, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, manager of Guide Outdoors. Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for more than 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

 

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