Harsh winter impacting deer herd

A deer in a field in Marinette County, Friday, March 7, 2014. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
A deer in a field in Marinette County, Friday, March 7, 2014. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

MARINETTE COUNTY - The state's deer population has already taken a hit this winter. Wildlife biologists say this has been the most severe winter in nearly 20 years. And this month's weather will be critical for the herd.

“They eat what they can get. The natural diet for deer in the winter is browse. It's twigs, brush, it's woody materials that's up above the snow pack,” said John Huff, DNR wildlife supervisor.

Wildlife biologists say deer store fat in their systems for winter, but heavy snow and record cold temperatures put stress on the herd.

“We are starting to receive reports from folks that are talking about fawns that are in bad shape,” said Huff.

“You take a look at them, all their reserves are depleted and it's quite likely that they succumbed to winter starvation,” said Huff.

It's a similar story at the Sportsmen's Exchange in Stiles.

“Unfortunately Mother Nature is cruel this year,” said Jeff Toneys, Sportsmen’s Exchange manager. “The small ones that were late fawns are having a hard time. The bucks that went into rut late because it got so cold, they ran themselves down, and then it went straight into winter.”

Jeff Toneys says people are feeding deer minerals and other supplements.

The DNR says one food to shy away from this time of year is corn.

“If they can't digest it and it can actually lead to changes in their stomach lining, that kills them in a pretty short order,” said Huff.

Even if spring arrives on time, wildlife biologists say the record cold winter will have an effect on reproduction within the herd.

“They have a low birth rate, sometimes the does resorb their embryos and they never have fawns,” said Huff.

Huff says it will come down to weather.

“If it breaks kind of in a normal timing, then that's good. If it holds on like it did last year, then that makes the winter worse than we would hope to see,” said Huff.

Wildlife biologists say in the northern counties they've responded to a handful of starved deer. They expect that number to go up as we head closer to spring.