Winter not looking good for U.P. deer

The great American writer/humorist Mark Twain is credited with saying: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” This famous quote (which was actually said by his friend, Charles Dudley Warner) certainly rings true this winter.

This is probably the case because we’ve had a lot of weather this winter, and the type that doesn’t please most residents.

There has been plenty of snow, we’re in the midst of the second real deep-freeze of the winter and the wind has been blowing strong from the northwest.

In reality, though, the weather has been much closer to a normal winter than we like to believe.

Perhaps this winter seems so severe because of the milder ones we experienced in recent years. Even last winter, which lingered late into spring, started out mild and really didn’t seem very tough until it didn’t want to end.

Then we had the winters of 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, which were the balmiest winters the Upper Peninsula has experienced in a long time.

For humans who live in the U.P., these three mild winters in a row were welcomed and created a much more joyous attitude among residents, although there were some who grumbled about the lack of good snow for skiing and snowmobiling.

The wild animals of the region also benefitted from the mild weather, thriving over those three years.

In regard to one of the more popular wild animals – the whitetail deer – its population climbed steadily during the mild winters, which made most deer hunters happy.

However, in reality those mild winters were setting the U.P. deer herd up for disaster when a more normal winter arrived – such as the long lasting winter of 2012-13.

The two toughest times of the year for deer are the late fall/early winter and late winter. During the middle stretch of winter, deer are huddled in deer yards conserving energy and eating less. If winter breaks early enough they are all set for the bounty of spring and summer.

During the winter of 2012-13, though, the weather didn’t break early and severe weather lasted well into April. This scenario took its toll on the deer herd, including being deadly to younger deer and causing a poor fawn crop.

This was very evident to deer hunters last fall, most of whom reported seeing fewer deer. The harvest was down considerably, as well, with estimates ranging from about 25 percent to near 35 percent in 2013 from the year before.

I know we saw significantly fewer deer in northern Marquette County where we hunt, although there were still some nice bucks taken as usual.

What were missing were the younger deer, such as the 1 1/2-year-old bucks that make up a large percentage of the buck-kill each year.

Having yearlings and young of the year in diminishing numbers was really noticeable last fall, but wait until this fall. Having those age-classes missing compounds itself in the next few years, with fewer mature bucks and breeding does to replenish the herd.

Then we come to this winter. Not only have we been dumped on with heavy snowfall and frozen for extended periods by below average temperatures, but the winter also started early.

At the onset of this column I mentioned the talk about the weather. Well, much of the weather talk I’ve been around centers on its impact on the deer herd, and it hasn’t been very positive.

Hunters are concerned that we will be facing rather dim prospects for deer hunting during the 2014 seasons. This could certainly be the case if the winter continues in the same mode we are experiencing now, with lingering severe winter weather like last year being disastrous.

So instead of just talking about it, what can we do about it? Not much besides hoping the heavy snows end early and the frigid polar air stays to the north of us.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature throws at us.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.