Ray Brook, N.Y. – A winter described by DEC biologists as the
worst in five years led to some deer mortality in pockets of the
state’s Northern Zone.
Most of the whitetail deaths occurred in the Adirondacks; the
remainder of the state saw significantly milder winter
Still, DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said the overall
effect of the recent winter on the deer population in the Northern
Zone “should be minor, but there may be localized instances of
moderate to heavy winter losses.”
One of those areas was near Paul Smiths in Franklin County.
“We found quite a few deer in the Barnum Pond area near Paul
Smiths,” said DEC biologist Ed Reed. “That was really the only
significant mortality we saw. We saw a couple in other (deer)
yards, but that’s normal.
“There were pockets where snow conditions were different and
didn’t get the crust like other places. Paul Smiths, in mid-April,
still had three feet of snow.”
DEC annually conducts winter deer yard surveys to determine the
extent of whitetail mortality due to starvation caused by deep snow
conditions. Hurst says the overall impact from this past winter
won’t likely lead to any regulations changes in the Northern
Since Deer Management Permits aren’t issued in most Wildlife
Management Units in the Adirondacks, DEC’s only recourse in
managing the harvest is through the muzzleloader season.
“That’s the only thing we really have; we could go from an
either sex season to bucks only,” Reed said. “But I don’t see that
happening this year.”
“We don’t believe the impacts (of winter) warrant any change in
muzzleloader regulations for the Northern Zone,” he said. “But deer
losses in portions of the Tug Hill and central Adirondacks may have
been enough to slow or stop further herd increases.”
Reed anticipates a lower Northern Zone deer harvest on the heels
of the rough winter, with fewer yearling bucks available to
hunters. Deep snows generally impact fawns and older deer more than
healthy adult whitetails.
In addition, some pregnant does will, under certain dire
conditions, reabsorb the fawn fetus for nutrition and won’t give
birth the following spring.
“After our last rough winter, in 2003, we saw the fall harvest
drop,” Reed said. “I expect that will happen again this year – a
dip of 10 percent, maybe 15.”
Reed said sportsmen may have “gotten used to mild winters” and
were fearful that this past winter would sharply impact deer
“The last rough winter we had was in 2003, and this past winter
was pretty similar to that,” he said. “And in most places it wasn’t
as bad as 2003.”
Hurst said several midwinter thaws in many areas likely kept the
winter from being catastrophic to whitetails in the
While many sportsmen feel coyote predation is high during the
winter – and throughout the year – Reed says the canines aren’t
really responsible for a great deal of winter mortality.
“The deer is almost always in starvation mode and wouldn’t have
made it anyway,” he said.