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Weather as you've never seen it

By Megan Michaud

We all know as hunters that when the weather is hot, we should have our stands near water. We all know that when it’s raining, the deer bed down and there isn’t a whole lot of action. We all know that once that nip is in the air and you can feel autumn when you step out your door that the rut is just around the corner. As hunters, we also know the resilience of our quarry. However, until just this past winter here in New Brunswick, I didn’t realize just how vulnerable a deer could be.
While I was away in University for my first year, I moped around campus for the first three months. I was wishing that I had been home, wearing camouflage and hunting whitetails on the abundant acres of public property. I longed to pick up my shotgun and go hunting for partridge too. I even wrote an article about just how upset I was at missing my hunting season, but six hundred miles wouldn’t stop me from having eyes and ears in my home province. No, I got regular updates from my mother and friends back home, and from what I could tell it had been a good season.

Let me first explain to you how hunting season in New Brunswick works, since it varies from province to province. Small game season starts on the first weekend of October, as does archery season for deer. Three weeks after that, gun season opens, and runs until the third weekend in November. Because we only have the one season, and no late season (or shotgun season), the hunting pressure is quite high. New Brunswick is divided into different zones, and when you buy your deer license, you are buying a license for a certain zone.

wildlife_zones.jpgWhen you purchase your deer tag, you’re automatically getting a buck tag, and you’re allowed one deer during the season. In 2006, more than 52,000 hunters hit the bush in New Brunswick, and 9,500 -/+ deer were harvested. However, if you want a chance to harvest a doe, you need to apply for the antlerless deer tag lottery by the middle of July. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get drawn for a doe tag in one specific zone – but you’re still only entitled to one deer.
Here in New Brunswick, several factors limit the growth of our deer herd. These include, but are not limited to legal harvest during season, road kill, poaching and loss of fawns to predators such as bears, bobcats and coyotes. Then there is the real reason behind my article – the weather. All of these factors are all but impossible to control, and it leaves our Department of Natural Resources and provincial biologists with a hard job after the season closes. They need to take the legal harvest numbers, figure out the losses by predation, poaching, etc., and announce a quota for the next year, but more to the point of my story.
During the winter of 2007 in my hunting zones 10 and 6, we had an unprecedented record-setting snowfall. At one point during the winter, it was reported that the snow pack on the ground had reached over six feet. No doubt this makes for rough traveling for the deer. What worsened this was the brief thaw we experienced in mid-January that left us with three feet of snow with a thick crust of ice on it. When all was said and done and the number crunchers in Fredericton (our Capital) had determined the losses for my area, over 33% of our deer population had either starved to death, or had become easy targets to the coyotes and were taken down. In the five acres surrounding my house, I found two deer carcasses, and in the neighboring fields, another three.

I knew that when times got rough, the DNR would set up stations where they would put feed out for the deer to minimizesnow.jpg the numbers lost, but that winter I heard horror stories from the Forest Rangers. They would receive a phone call saying that there was a deer on someone’s property and it looked skinny and sickly. In the twenty or so minutes it would take the officer to drive to the scene, they would arrive to find a dead deer. Never had I heard of such staggering numbers as one-third of the deer population in my area succumbing to the weather.

In spring of 2008, the biologists got together and figured out a plan to try to up the number of deer in my area. How did they do this? Out of all the wildlife zones they could close, they closed zones 10 and 6 – my hunting grounds to buck-only areas. No does are to be harvested in order for the herd numbers to increase substantially over the next few years. Mature bucks were hard to find before our severe weather, and I’m certain they’ll be scarcer than hens teeth come this fall. From all the glassing I’ve done, I’ve seen only does in my area. Over two hundred deer spotted – one buck among those, and it was a fork horn.

I am taking this as a learning experience. I love to learn things about my natural environment, and I have always known the whitetail deer to be a resilient creature. Though it is sad that the herd has been decimated, it is also interesting to see just how weather can affect animals other than when we pattern them for the season. Winter has always been a fickle friend here in New Brunswick – but for once, I’m praying for little snow!