North Dakota Mule Deer Down Again

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The Jamestown Sun has a brief write up noting that North Dakota's mule deer population is again down continuing a four year trend. The article blames three years of harsh winters, but then notes that whitetail deer populations continue to increase. Perhaps whitetail encroachment in conjunction with harsh winters is driving the mule deer population down.

Three years of harsh winter conditions have increased adult mortality and reduced production. The last two years have resulted in the two lowest production rates ever documented, and biologists expect this year’s production to be similarly low. Conversely, white-tailed deer abundance in the badlands has increased during the last five years.


groovy mike's picture

Does my theory make sense to you?

You can add me to those who don’t understand exactly how or why the whitetail deer population is growing while the mule deer numbers drop in the state of North Dakota.  I do have a theory though.  Let me know if this idea makes sense to you.


 The only explanation that comes to mind for me is that if they are competing for the same food, white tail deer being smaller in body size require less of it.  So if there is only enough winter  browse to sustain say a one hundred pound animal for each deer in both populations – then the white tail deer live, and the mule deer starve to death with the same amount of food for each.  After the first winter with those results – the adult white tail deer survive but there are fewer mule deer.  This means MORE food for the white tail deer (because there are fewer mule deer eating it).  Even if you add 10 white tail deer per mile when you lose 10 mule deer in the same mile, the white tail will eat less per deer because they have a smaller body size and need less food.  That increased number of white tail deer reproduce with the full number of adult does while the mule deer who do survive are in poor condition for carrying fawns.  Besides being in poor condition there are fewer adult mule deer does left to reproduce so the effect snowballs.  A second winter has the same effect with the result multiplied by an order of magnitude, and so on until this being the fourth year of the same result with cumulative snowballing effects.  You now have a huge increase in the smaller body white tail while the larger body mule deer are starving out.  It is logical IF they are competing for the same food supply and IF the ratios work out such that the amount of available feed per deer would sustain a white tail more readily than a full sized adult mule deer.   

What do you think?  Does that seem like a remotely plausible explanation to you? 

hunter25's picture

I have read many reports on

I have read many reports on the up and down swingd due to bad winters in the dakota's and all the reports do indicate that this last winter has hurt the herds really bad again. I have been reading the laws up there and have looked foeward to planning a hunt in the future but because of things like this I will wait and plan for a better year. Hopefully with some milder winters they will rebound quickly and get headed back in the right direction. It is very interesting though that the report does show the whitetail herd as increasing despite the conditions, I'm not sure how t explain that situation as I doubt that they are just a tougher breed and can handle it better. I guess time will tell what the reasons are.

Our winter here in colorado for the most part was milder this year so I hope to see more animals than normal as the last few years have not been that good in my area.

GooseHunter Jr's picture

Wow that is bad news for

Wow that is bad news for sure.  Hopefully they will make a for here in Colorado the deer are finally starting to make a comeback after many years of low numbers.