Wisconsin Winter 2014 Killing Northern Deer and Turkeys

winter kill

Severe winter of 2014 taking a toll on Wisconsin's wildlife

Severe winter of 2014 taking a toll on Wisconsin’s wildlife

Update: March 31,2014 – After covering a lot of Wisconsin turkey territory this spring including the Northern Wisconsin units my fears of a massive wild turkey winter kill were not realized.  There are few birds that died but no huge flocks died or at least I could not find any evidence of any.  A landowner in northern Polk county told me of a massive winter kill on his farm and invited me to come see.  Vic the turkey dog and I covered this farm finding only 4 dead turkeys, some of the neighbors invited us to check their farms also.  Still only the 4 dead turkeys were found.  Individual birds die each winter for a variety of reasons.  Had there been more dead turkeys Vic would have found and pointed them to us. These fellows like me, rightly became concerned about not seeing turkeys in their usual locations all winter and we assumed the worst. However, as we searched around these farms gobbles answered the yelps from my trumpet call all day long.  In fact there is a solid turkey population there.  I’m finding and hearing that is the case in many areas.  So I wrote a 2014 turkey hunt forecast  here, check it out.  Also a post wondering if Turkeys Migrate?

Bad news regarding deer, as the snow melts  we’ve been finding a lot of winter kill deer. Deer of course do not have wings so they can’t fly away to find food.  They unfortunately are stuck when the snow gets deep.

Good News Update March 7, 2014 Turkey Turkeys Everywhere

Winter 2014 has been brutally cold.  Not just for a few days of cold or record cold  but a long sustained subzero cold.  Coupled with deep snow in the northern sections of Wisconsin makes for tough times on our wildlife resources.  Wisconsin’s wildlife managers are monitoring the winter severity index at many northern stations it is already pasted severe.  There will likely be no antlerless permits issued in these areas for the 2014 deer season.  Spring 2014 turkey population will likely be considerably lower than usual.

WDNR press release-

According to Wallenfang, the 2012-13 winter started out fairly mild, but late, significant snows and cold temperatures occurred well into May resulting in direct losses of deer and lower than average fawn production. These factors and others combined to keep deer numbers lower than desired during the hunting season in many areas across the north.

“For the 2013 hunting season, antlerless permit numbers were set as low as we’ve seen them since the 1990s,” Wallenfang said. “With deer numbers already low in some areas, this winter is going to slow the recovery of the northern herd.”

Mike Zeckmeister, district wildlife supervisor in Spooner, says that the first question people usually ask is whether they should start feeding deer.

“It’s always well-intended, but feeding can do more harm than good if done improperly,” Zeckmeister said. “It’s understandable that people want to try to help deer through a bad winter. So if you choose to feed, please talk to the local DNR wildlife biologist first for advice.”

Zeckmeister especially emphasized that straight corn and hay are not recommended as they can be harmful. Instead, a commercialized pellet or mixes containing small quantities of corn, plus alfalfa, oats, and soybeans, as well as various vitamins and minerals is preferable from a deer health concern. It should be spread out to reduce fighting, away from roads or snowmobile trails to avoid collisions, and near sheltered areas out of the wind.

Wallenfang also offered a reminder that deer feeding is strictly regulated, and is prohibited in any county affected by CWD. In all other counties, feeding is currently limited to a maximum of 2 gallons per site, must be placed within 50 yards of a dwelling or business building open to the public, and may not be placed within 100 yards of a roadway with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or more.

 Zeckmeister urged potential feeders to contact the local wildlife manager to discuss various types of food and techniques that will not harm deer, and for a full explanation of additional regulations.

DNR biologists annually monitor the effects of winter weather on the deer herd using a Winter Severity Index, which uses a combination of cold temperatures and deep snows to gauge winter stress levels. In addition, they are also spending time in the woods monitoring both deer and winter habitat, as well as talking to loggers, foresters, trappers, and others who spend time in the winter woods.

The WSI measurements are recorded annually from December 1 through April 30 at 43 stations spread primarily across the northern third of the state as well as several east-central counties.

“Each day that the temperatures fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit and/or the snow depth is more than 18 inches, the conditions are noted for each station,” Wallenfang explained. “For example, a day with 20 inches of snow and a temperature of five-below-zero would receive two points for the day.”

Winter conditions are considered mild if the station accumulates less than 50 points, moderate if between 51 and 80 points, severe if between 81 and100, and very severe if over 100.

“The index is not a perfect measurement of winter severity, but it gives us a pretty good gauge of what to expect,” says Wallenfang.

Wallenfang says that several stations in the far northwestern counties have already surpassed the severe category. Farther south and east, many stations will likely hit the severe classifications later this winter.

As a result, Wallenfang anticipates either zero or extremely limited numbers of antlerless deer permits in many northern counties for the 2014 hunting season.

“Even if winter suddenly turned mild, we would still anticipate some buck only areas in 2014,” Wallenfang added. “Deer numbers have declined in general across much of the north, and in some areas significantly in recent years. Low or zero quotas are an obvious step to help herds recover.”

“We’ll be monitoring the situation across not just the north, but the entire state through spring green-up because we did lose deer in the south last year, as well. We are asking the public to assist with monitoring and would appreciate their help in reporting any winter deer mortality they see to their local wildlife biologist,” Wallenfang says.

For more information see-  Wisconsin Baiting and Feeding Regulations

Our wild turkeys are also suffering especially along their northern habitat areas.  Deep snow prevents them from foraging to ground foods.  During these times turkeys must roost throughout the cold days to conserve body heat.  When the temps moderate they will feed on buds and insects inside the tree bark.  This type of feeding seems to be much more energy intensive than when they can scratch around on the ground.  I’ve been the northern forest north of Highway 8 and in all the areas I walked the snow was waist deep.   At that time it was fluffy which should bode for ruffed grouse and snowshoe hares.  Most other wildlife is in real trouble.

Turkeys eat weed seeds that are above the snow line. In this case burdock.

Turkeys eat weed seeds that are above the snow line. In this case burdock.

In the central and southern areas I’ve visited the deer seem to be OK, not great, but just OK.  Ag fields became ice covered prior to last heavy snows and here too there have been long extended periods of subzero cold.  Turkeys cannot scratch through the ice layers so they’ve been feeding on seeds found above the snow lines.

I expect reduced turkey populations statewide for Wisconsin’s 2014 spring turkey hunt.  Turkeys can survive without feeding for about 14 days before they become so weak they can’t eat.  The weather is pushing their limits. Especially the birds of year.

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