Weather is Key for Late Winter Deer Survival

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"Deer in northern Minnesota are in good condition so far this winter, but weather in the next two months will be a key factor for next falls hunting season," according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This winter doesn't match the severity of winters in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, when 40 to 50 percent of deer in northern Minnesota perished as a result of deep snow and cold temperatures, said Mark Lenarz, a DNR forest wildlife research group leader in Grand Rapids.

"Barring a late-winter blizzard, this winter will likely rank with the winter of 2000-2001, the last time that accumulated snow was deeper than 15 inches in northern Minnesota. That winter was considered moderate," Lenarz said.

DNR wildlife managers project winter mortality for deer by calculating the sum of days with a low temperature below zero and the number of days with 15 inches or more snow on the ground.

In International Falls, the number known as the winter severity index was 58 on Feb. 11. On the same date in 1996, the winter severity index in International Falls was 126. It was 68 in 2001.

"If the weather continues with the current trend, deer populations will come through in great shape," Lenarz said. "However, if we have a late winter blizzard with snow that stays well into April, we'll see increased mortality."

Currently, the snow is deepest in northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties, where up to 36 inches is on the ground. In most other parts of the forest, snow is 15 to 24 inches deep. Wildlife managers across northern Minnesota report that except in the arrowhead, deer are not restricted in their movements.

Lenarz said, "Mild weather last winter and warm temperatures this past fall also will help deer survive. Although we had record cold on the deer opener last November, we had warm temperatures before and after, which maximized deer condition going into the winter."