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Idaho mule deer fawns experience “below-average survival rates”

Idaho mule deer winterkill

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Winterkill can still happen, even as spring weather begins its slow thaw. In Idaho, this is the case as the eastern portion of the state experienced “lingering snowpack” during March and April, resulting in “below-average survival rates,” for mule deer fawns, the Post Register reports.

“The mule deer fawns, in particular, took a pretty big hit,” said James Brower, Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) regional communications manager. “In some places, up to 40 and 50 percent were lost. There’s probably some loss from some predation stuff, but it’s mainly due to the prolonged winter. We just had a winter with a lot of snow in February with record snowfalls especially in the Palisades zone.”

IDFG biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves via telemetry collars, according to the Post Register. The animals were outfitted with collars in early winter. And, while the mortality rate is high, officials say it’s not as bad as previous winters, yet.

“It will not be like the winter of 2016-17, but we will be below the long-term average,” said Daryl Meints, IDFG deer and elk coordinator. “On a brighter note, it appears that elk calf survival is doing just fine, as are adult doe and cow survival.”

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However, Brian Pearson, IDFG information specialist, stated in a news release that “Wildlife managers expect that 2018-19 mule deer fawn survival will end up being higher than 2016-17, which was the second-lowest survival of fawns (30 percent) in 20 years.”

March and April tend to be the harder months for fawn and calf survival. Biologists will monitor collars until the end of May and anticipate that the fawn mortality rate will only increase until the spring green-up occurs.

Adult deer and elk survival rates are quite good. Out of the 548 radio-collared mule deer does, 92% were still alive as of April 30 and 98% of the 643 collared elk cows have survived the winter, according to the Post Register. A final count will be conducted and reported in June.

“Where the snow has melted and the green up is pretty lush and full of nutrients, they’ll follow that and start moving back to their summer ranges,” said Brower.


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Josh S. - posted 2 months ago on 05-30-2019 12:14:58 pm
S.E. Idaho

@ Matthew A., You are more than welcome out here no matter what tags you have in your pocket! Idaho has flown under the radar as a state and what it offers forever. Most of the time when Idaho is mentioned in anything mainstream such as TV shows or movies, it is in a negative's light and that has made a lot of folks defensive. Some folks have a hard time with all the population growth and additional hunting pressure, while I will be the first to admit the additional hunting pressure is MINIMAL. I've lived in Idaho all my life and I've been shaking hands and talking with out of state hunters for almost 30 years. Somehow, I still manage to notch at least one tag every year ;)

Regarding this article, I look at unit 67 out the window of my home office every single day. I would sure like to see IDFG be a little more aggressive with improving our Mule Deer herd health in south eastern Idaho. We aren't exactly running out of Mulies but I sure see a lot less of them in our area. Reading this article confirmed my worries that our snowpack and slow spring was going to be tough on fawns. I have bought White Tail only tags the last 2 years and intentionally spent more time elk hunting. We will see what I do this fall but as Nicholas K. said below, I haven't felt good about buying a Muley tag since the 2016-2017 winter.

matthew a. - posted 3 months ago on 05-15-2019 05:15:16 pm
Tampa, FL

Hey Sean,
Im driving out from florida to hunt idaho. 10 days dedicated to only hunt wolves (only tag I have in your state). Am I unwelcome there or what?
Richard C. - posted 3 months ago on 05-15-2019 07:34:18 am
Ahwahnee CA

Why doesn't everyone just hunt their home state then. It would save me a ton of money every year that I donate to their economy and wildlife programs.

Sean M. - posted 3 months ago on 05-14-2019 01:51:31 pm

Agreed Nick. Out hunting last year 4 of every 5 trucks I saw running around OTC areas were out of state....

Nicholas K. - posted 3 months ago on 05-14-2019 11:16:38 am
Quarryville, PA

I can't believe how many tags are available OTC to non residents. I would almost feel bad buying one of them to hunt out there when you see this about mule deer struggling on top of all the wolf predation on the elk herds. Maybe it would be a long term benefit to cut tags back temporary.