Some of us old timers will ask others, “How are you wintering?” The answers can range from: “I'm getting by alright; I'm still vertical;" to "The flu has gotten hold of me;" or, "I can't wait for spring to arrive.”
When I view the mule deer and white-tailed deer around Sheridan, Wyoming, I can't get any verbal answers as to how they are wintering, but most seem to be getting by alright.
I checked with Wyoming Game & Fish wildlife biologist Tim Thomas to ask him how the deer were wintering. He said, “We lost some fawns with the cold snap and snow in December. The cold temperatures were tough on the smaller fawns that hadn't had time to build up enough fat reserves, but that is par for the course.”
Thomas noted that the cold weather relented in mid-January and the snows have ceased. With sunny days at or above freezing south- and west-facing slopes have shed a lot of snow. The deer have been able to browse the slopes and take on nourishment.
I know that I have seen fewer mule deer in my neighborhood than I did in late December and early January. I attribute that to two factors: Number one, some of the fields that they had been feeding in have been heavily encrusted in snow, thus the deer can't paw down to food. The number two factor is that the slopes east of my house have melted out so the deer can forage on them without coming into town.
I have also observed that the mule deer and white-tailed deer around Kleenburn, Wyoming, have moved out of the snow-covered lands along the Tongue River and have moved to the west-facing and south-facing slopes that are clear of snow and have a decent stand of skunkbrush with some chokecherry in the draws. Also, cheatgrass has remained green in the area.
Though there is ample chokecherry, serviceberry, and skunkbrush in the snow-covered areas, the deer aren't spending much time there. Before the warmer weather the deer were browsing those shrubs fairly heavily and really got after a downed green ash tree that had sent up fresh branches. I can't recall ever seeing deer browse green ash in other areas, but they sure liked that particular branch.
Thomas pointed out that deer classification surveys had been completed and that the data were encouraging. According to the January 2018 Sheridan Region Newsletter, the deer surveys are made for a number of reasons. “Classification surveys provide information to wildlife managers on the productivity of the herd, determined by the number of fawns per 100 does following the hunting season. If the fawn ratio is equal to or greater than 66 fawns per 100 does, the population is expected to be increasing or stable going into the winter season.
“Nearly 10,200 mule deer were observed during the classification surveys. In the Powder River Herd Unit (Hunt Areas 17, 18, 23 and 26) there were 37 bucks per 100 does and 68 fawns per 100 does, while in the Upper Powder River Herd Unit (Hunt Areas 30, 32, 33, 163 and 169) there were 43 bucks per 100 does and 70 fawns per 100 does. The Pumpkin Buttes Herd Unit (Hunt Areas 19, 29 and 31) had 44 bucks per 100 does and 65 fawns per 100 does. The Sheridan Region contains only the hunt areas on the east side of the North Bighorns Herd Unit (Hunt Areas 24, 25, 27 and 28) where 37 bucks per 100 does and 71 fawns per 100 does were classified.”
The surveys indicate that there is a decent buck-doe ratio. There are quality bucks in all the hunt areas. The number of yearling bucks that were classified points to a good number of the 2016 fawn crop surviving the winter. The fawn ratios are healthy so that the mule deer populations are either stable or expanding.
The news release also said that the white-tailed deer herd in the Sheridan Region is doing quite well. There were 3,183 white-tailed deer surveyed with ratios of 70 fawns per 100 does and 37 bucks per 100 does recorded. Again, the white-tailed deer ratios point to an expanding herd with good buck-doe ratios.
Barring a killer late winter storm, the deer herds are wintering alright, even if they can't say so.