Winter wonder: With the mild winter, North Dakota hunters should have a better hunting seasonMother Nature has been awfully kind to the western side of North Dakota this winter.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
Mother Nature has been awfully kind to the western side of North Dakota this winter.
The weather has had a negative impact on hunting populations for the past three winters, but due to mild conditions it could be changing.
“After three consecutive harsh winters out west, this is what the doctor ordered,” said Brett Wiedmann, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department big game biologist in Dickinson.
Hunting numbers took a downward spiral from what most residential hunters were accustomed to in years past and the NDGF expect the mild winter to have a positive effect on hunting populations across the board.
“This nice winter we are having will no doubt be a benefit to many wildlife species in North Dakota,” said Randy Kreil, the NDGF division chief. “The mortality rate to this point has been nonexistent.”
The best sign is a lack of mortality among does and young fawns. Due to the three harsh winters prior to this season, the mortality rate among deer was high.
“This should allow the does to get through the winter in much better shape,” Wiedmann said. “The majority gives birth to fawns and put some more deer on the ground this spring.”
This one winter isn’t going give deer a complete turn around, but it will help nonetheless.
“Deer numbers are pretty low, so it’s not like one mild winter is going to bring them back to levels where they were at a few years ago,” Wiedmann said.
The question on everyone’s mind is when a big snowfall is going to happen. The answer to that is unknown.
If snow does come upon us, Kreil said the deer should have no problem surviving this winter.
“Deer should make it through the winter just fine, even if, we do get a turn for the worst,” he said.
How do harsh winters affect the production of deer?
“In severe winter there are a number of things that happen,” he said. “Your fawns from that year have a very high mortality rate. Secondly your does are worn out from long winters like that. The following spring then you can typically expect to give birth to fewer fawns and fawns that are poorer quality. They aren’t as healthy and vigorous. So your production the following year is lessened as well. And then you do that three years in a row and there’s a pretty dramatic decline in deer numbers.”
Despite no snow on the ground, the NDGF isn’t able to take an accurate reading of how many whitetail deer are in a given location.
However, the NDGF is able to get a better reading of the mule deer population in the early spring.
The one animal that might be hit the hardest, if there were to be a late snow storm, is the pheasant population. Kreil said as of right now, the pheasants aren’t in harsh enough weather to find thick brush to nest in.
“If the weather stays like this, pheasants will also benefit,” he said. “Pheasants are very susceptible to late winter storms. If they are not in good winter cover, we can actually lose more pheasants in those late winter storms than in a cold winter.”