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  1. Default SE Montana winter kill

    How severe has the winter been? I know the next month is crucial to deer survival, just wondering how bad it's been so far.

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    Not there but I am in SW ND so not too far. It has been cold for sure with a decent amount of snow. Not enough to cause a ton of harm I don't think though. Although my coworker said Miles City has gotten more snow than he has ever seen in a long time.

  3. #3
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    It has been BAD from Miles City south all the way to the WY border. Real Bad. Deep snow and miserable cold temps for pretty much 2 straight months. Hopefully Antlerradar will chime in...

  4. #4
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    Winters give me anxiety. Already seeing shed pictures pop up.
    "I'll put some whiskey into my whiskey"

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schaaf View Post
    Winters give me anxiety. Already seeing shed pictures pop up.
    Agreed! The last two years I've been shed hunting by now, but the weather was nice and the deer weren't struggling. This year is a completely different ball game; I haven't been on a hike yet....the elk will be dropping in a couple weeks, and I'm praying the weather gets better as I'm sure guys are going to run elk all over the place. The snow this year is adding up!

  6. #6

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    Winter started out nice with little snow up until mid Dec. We got a good amount of snow in Dec but it was relatively nice in Jan. and the snow melted off the south facing slopes and down to a hard four inches else where. February has been really awful. Ashland has gotten more that 3 feet of snow in Feb. and Ashland is on the river valley. You can expect higher elevations like Cook Mt, Whitetail ranger station, Diamond and Poker Jim buttes to get as much as a foot more. It has also been cold with many days below zero. Last week I had five day that were -20 or better. It can't be good for wildlife.
    The winters of 78 and 96 both had big die offs and right now conditions are on par with those winters. The good thing is both of those winters started with deep snow in November and this winter did not. The bad is this past summer was hot and dry so many deer did not enter the winter in the best of shape. If I were to predict. Most of the deer that had access of irrigated alfalfa during the summer will make it, but those that had to struggle to find high quality food this summer will have a difficult time.
    The forecast is looking better but I don't see anything that will get rid of this snow earlier than mid March at best. When all this snow gets hard and the coyotes are able to run on the top of the snow the deer will be easy pickings.

  7. #7
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    This was on Montana FWP's region 7 Facebook page.

    "Wildlife doing best they can to survive winter conditions

    With southeastern Montana settling into harsh winter conditions, it’s only natural for people to wonder how the wildlife are faring. There is no simple answer, other than the animals are doing the best they can. Some winter mortality is inevitable even in mild years, and only time will tell how much of a toll this winter will take.

    As of last week, FWP Region 7 biologists and wardens reported observing no major impacts yet, but they were seeing signs of stress on wildlife. And that was before it snowed up to nine inches in parts of the region over the weekend.

    According to biologists, deer were already struggling to adapt to drought conditions before winter set in, moving over to winter browse as early as September. And the continuing snowfall and cold temperatures will further tax them.

    “This year’s drought has left many deer in poorer-than-average condition,” said Wildlife Biologist Melissa Foster. “Fawns are noticeably smaller than normal. For deer, every winter is a test of endurance. They rely on stored fat reserves to make up the difference between their daily energy expenditures and what few calories they can consume. Even slight deficits in stored fat reserves can have big impacts. Deep snows or bitterly cold temperatures cause deer to use up precious energy at a faster rate.”

    “Even in the absence of hunting, normal overwinter mortality is around 25 percent for deer, and we expect that figure may be higher this year,” Foster said.

    The drought impacted vegetation, which is important for both nutrition and for cover. In addition, there was emergency haying and grazing of CRP, further reducing vegetation and cover.

    “Overall, I’m not seeing any mass die-offs,” Warden Sergeant Todd Anderson said last week, “but I am seeing some fawns that appear to be in very poor condition.”

    Heavy snow is forcing animals to shift their feeding patterns.

    “In the last week, I’ve been at two calls of mule deer that have been caught in fences attempting to get into haystacks,” Anderson said.

    “What I am seeing is not necessarily animals dying of starvation, but with the snow depth, deer cannot judge the height of fences,” he explained. “Snow physically stops them from getting a good jump.”

    On February 13, Warden Captain Jack Austin necropsied a mule deer doe that had been caught in a fence.

    “She had a fawn that was also dead, probably frozen while waiting for the mother stuck in the fence,” Austin said.

    The doe’s body condition and bone marrow still looked healthy, according to Austin. If the bone marrow had appeared reddish and jellied, it would be an indication of malnourishment.

    Anderson and Austin also dealt with a subadult mountain lion in extremely poor condition that was seen trying to catch turkeys, but it failed and, exhausted, eventually crawled under someone’s porch in Colstrip.

    “Likely, it was a young lion that moved off from its mother and was not a successful hunter, and with the snow it just starved to death,” Anderson said.

    It’s not just the inability to get to food and water that impacts animals, it’s also the energy expended in the pursuit of it.

    “It’s the physical, draining part of getting around that affects the wildlife, more than the food,” Anderson explained. “There are still some areas of sagebrush and other food items they are able to get to, but the amount of snow is a physical barrier to where it takes so much energy to move in it, that when they get to it, it’s got to be very good habitat.”

    When animals do find a food source, they are camping on it until it is depleted, he said.

    Region 7 Wildlife Biologist Steve Atwood echoed that.

    “It’s evident in the north how critical habitat has shrunk for sagebrush-dependent animals, and they are keying in on those remaining areas,” Atwood said.

    While conducting annual aerial elk surveys, he has observed heavy trails between accessible sagebrush areas.

    In the south, elk and mule deer are congregating on south- and west-facing slopes where they can warm up faster and avoid the wind. Antelope are falling into big wintering herds, and Atwood said the deep snow is disrupting their movements.

    “I’ve seen spots where antelope are trapped,” he said. “They try to go under the fences, but there’s too much snow.”

    Atwood urged landowners in areas without cattle to keep some gates open so antelope are able to cross to food sources. Last week he did observe one antelope caught in a fence.

    As far as what the public can do for wildlife, he said, “Just give them some space, and know that they are stressed.”

    Dr. Jennifer Ramsey, wildlife veterinarian for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, explained how tough winters impact wildlife populations.

    “We see an increase in mortality of the young and the old animals, especially when we have deep or crusted snow and subzero temperatures,” Dr. Ramsey said. “The carcasses of these animals are generally in poor body condition, as the animal wasn’t able to keep up with the nutritional and energy demands to survive.”

    “In addition to winter kill, we see an increase in animals using unnatural food sources like haystacks, grain feeders, etc.,” she said. “In some cases, overconsumption of such rich feed causes fatal problems like rumen acidosis/grain overload, which can cause rapid death in healthy-looking animals. Also, attraction to these sorts of feed sources tends to cause congregation of animals, and the closer proximity to one another, and droppings, etc., increases the risk of transmission of any infectious disease that might be present in an animal.”

    For these reasons, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks does not do supplemental feeding of wildlife, as it can do more harm than good.

    “The tendency is to feel sorry for animals and want to feed them,” Anderson said, “but that is not the answer, because artificial feeding to animals in poor condition can cause them to die faster, and cause intestinal problems that are fatal.”

    “The strong survive, and the weak die; it’s an unfortunate truth,” Anderson said.

    But wildlife populations have the ability to recover quickly. That’s what happened after back-to-back harsh winters in 2010-11. By 2017, mule deer populations had rebounded to 47 percent above the long-term average. Region 7 adopted the maximum quota of 11,000 antlerless “B” licenses to try to balance the number of mouths on the landscape with available resources.

    “It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but by harvesting heavier in the fall, you can actually end up with more deer on the landscape the following year,” Foster explained. “You split those critical and limited winter resources between fewer deer. The result is higher overwinter survival."


    After a mule deer doe was caught in a fence trying to access a haystack, FWP necropsied the doe. The solid appearance of the bone marrow in her foreleg indicates that she was still relatively healthy and did not die of malnutrition.

    By contrast, a mule deer buck fawn necropsied in late December shows reddish, jellied-looking bone marrow, which is an indication of malnutrition. The snow and cold temperatures were just setting in for the season, so the drought was probably the biggest contributor to this young deer’s poor condition."

  8. #8

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    “It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but by harvesting heavier in the fall, you can actually end up with more deer on the landscape the following year,” Foster explained. “You split those critical and limited winter resources between fewer deer. The result is higher overwinter survival."

    I am not sure I am willing to buy in on this. I can see where this may be the case in the mountains of western Montana where good winter range is limited but here on the Custer we are not lacking is high quality winter range. Even on years like this when deer are pushed into the best of the best winter range there is still plenty to go around.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by antlerradar View Post
    “It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but by harvesting heavier in the fall, you can actually end up with more deer on the landscape the following year,” Foster explained. “You split those critical and limited winter resources between fewer deer. The result is higher overwinter survival."

    I am not sure I am willing to buy in on this. I can see where this may be the case in the mountains of western Montana where good winter range is limited but here on the Custer we are not lacking is high quality winter range. Even on years like this when deer are pushed into the best of the best winter range there is still plenty to go around.
    So they should be fine then if there's plenty to go around . Assuming the weather gradually starts to get better . Deer are tough critters they'll be ok . Some young and unhealthy/wounded deer die even in the nicest of winters . They'll get through it

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    Up in Region 4 , a rancher buddy of mine told me they've had a great winter . But I know it can change fast one area to another / here in ND it's been a bad winter in SW part of the state but here in SE it's been fine . Had around 35-40" of snow total and some cold stretches but overall not bad and the deer look good .

  11. #11
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    With the applications still open I would be shocked to hear the reality of region 7 from a FWP employee when they have thousands of NR's excited to send them $700+ a piece for a deer tag. Let's be real.

    It's been absolutely brutal in 2018 and I expect many deaths and aborted fawns. I'm sure lots of 2.5 year olds will make it though so it should be another fun year out there

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlakeA View Post
    With the applications still open I would be shocked to hear the reality of region 7 from a FWP employee when they have thousands of NR's excited to send them $700+ a piece for a deer tag. Let's be real.

    It's been absolutely brutal in 2018 and I expect many deaths and aborted fawns. I'm sure lots of 2.5 year olds will make it though so it should be another fun year out there
    Spot on. Nobody needs to worry about tags being cut. The ones that make it through the winter we can try to finish off in the fall.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by 8andcounting View Post
    So they should be fine then if there's plenty to go around . Assuming the weather gradually starts to get better . Deer are tough critters they'll be ok . Some young and unhealthy/wounded deer die even in the nicest of winters . They'll get through it
    Not exactly what I am saying. So I will try to explain better. In places with limited winter range deer are competing with each other for food. In south eastern Montana with the abundant good winter range deer are not competing against other deer but with the elements. It does not matter if there is lots of high quality winter range if the deer have to dig through 2 feet of crusted snow even on south facing slopes to get a bite to eat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlakeA View Post
    With the applications still open I would be shocked to hear the reality of region 7 from a FWP employee when they have thousands of NR's excited to send them $700+ a piece for a deer tag. Let's be real.

    It's been absolutely brutal in 2018 and I expect many deaths and aborted fawns. I'm sure lots of 2.5 year olds will make it though so it should be another fun year out there
    I almost spit up my coffee reading this hahahaha . Your 100% correct . It's all about the $

  15. #15

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    From what I have read the previous year has a lot to do with winter kill with adult mule deer. It can take 2 years to run them down and also 2 years to recover body weight. Of course if it is bad enough they are doomed but how they come out of the previous winter is a big factor. The dry fall couldn't have helped.

  16. #16

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    Well I just drove all through southeast Montana, and my two cents. It doesn't look good at all. I'm not a biologist or rancher but, I know that I haven't had to many trips down through that way where everywhere and i mean absolutely everywhere a guy looks there's a solid 8 to 16 inches of hard crusty snow on every face. All the way from Billings through Colstrip down to Broadus and back. I'm sure deer and elk are tough but I'm agreeing with radar digging through 20 inches of crust hoping for a meal in single digit temps has to be getting a little much this late in winter.
    Last edited by EYJONAS!; 02-27-2018 at 03:24 PM.
    Ain't doing half bad for a half full glass - Drake White

  17. #17

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    Hoping the best for Montana.... I'll be taking a friend out there for his first western hunt this year (assuming we will draw). NOAA is pretty dang good at predicting potential weather patterns.
    To what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

  18. #18

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    Should just let Eastern Montana take a year off
    Ain't doing half bad for a half full glass - Drake White

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    Quote Originally Posted by EYJONAS! View Post
    Should just let Eastern Montana take a year off
    Hilarious

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by EYJONAS! View Post
    Should just let Eastern Montana take a year off

    +1.
    "There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm." ~TR

    "He was a mighty hunter before the Lord." ~Genesis 10:9

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    Quote Originally Posted by 406LIFE View Post
    +1.
    It'll be fine folks take a blood pressure pill good god

  22. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by 8andcounting View Post
    It'll be fine folks take a blood pressure pill good god
    Nobody really thinks opportunity will be cut. Caravans of ooftas can still come collect their 6 roadside rutters.

    Your opportunity will always come before conservation and that wonít change anytime soon.
    ďTo me, if you donít eat it, then itís not a point of prideĒ. -Matt Rinella

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by EYJONAS! View Post
    Should just let Eastern Montana take a year off
    +2

    Bad drought, followed up with a tough winter isn't a good combo. Probably not as bad as the the winters in 2010 and 2011, but I don't believe there was any drought leading up to those winters. Looking like just a points year for me.

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by antlerradar View Post
    “It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but by harvesting heavier in the fall, you can actually end up with more deer on the landscape the following year,” Foster explained. “You split those critical and limited winter resources between fewer deer. The result is higher overwinter survival."

    I am not sure I am willing to buy in on this. I can see where this may be the case in the mountains of western Montana where good winter range is limited but here on the Custer we are not lacking is high quality winter range. Even on years like this when deer are pushed into the best of the best winter range there is still plenty to go around.
    This isn't the first time something has come out of her mouth that I've disagreed with. How about "some of our most productive herds are the ones that are shot the most" asked her how so? "we don't want a bunch of old codgers running around taking up resources for more productive individuals" -well maybe that would be the case if only shot dry does, but thats not the case so I call BS.

    Back on track, I'm hoping for an early spring over there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 8andcounting View Post
    It'll be fine folks take a blood pressure pill good god
    It’s already been established that you think 2 points are good bucks. So yes everything will be fine.
    Last edited by timmy; 02-28-2018 at 06:33 AM.

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