The 2014 white-tailed deer hunting season won't be cancelled, even though some hunters were hoping for a ban.
"Although a significant number of our members wanted the deer season closed completely, I would say most of our members preferred a lesser restriction," said Brian Strautman, president of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation. "There has always been an acceptance by the hunting community to restrict hunting for big game when populations are low since we all want deer around for generations to come. We are calling on licensed hunters to use their own discretion in areas they hunt and if they feel the population is too low perhaps they can use the fall to pursue fish or fowl instead."
Instead of a full ban, hunters will be restricted to bucks only. For the past two seasons, hunters were allowed to fill only one tag across all seasons -- archery, muzzleloader and rifle. That condition will remain in effect.
Herman Dettman, big game biologist with the wildlife branch of Manitoba Conservation, says it's all part of the Reduced Deer System Framework. It's a model the department puts into play when numbers plummet. Manitoba's population is now estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 animals. Normally, the herd should be at between 160,000 and 180,000. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the number pushed 200,000.
"Winter mortality is always the biggest factor affecting the population," Dettman said. "Normal loss is around 10 to 20 per cent of the herd. For the last two winters, we've seen mortality in the 30 to 40 per cent range." Dettman added populations in Saskatchewan, Northwestern Ontario and North Dakota are experiencing the same kinds of losses.
Cold temperatures early in the year, above average snowfall, extended periods of bitter cold and a late spring all contribute to winter mortality. "Once the snow gets deeper than 35 centimetres, deer have a hard time moving around," Dettman said. "Their diet becomes very poor. They start living off their fat reserves. Fawns are the first to go. Then bucks because they aren't carrying much fat after the rut."
To determine the extent of winter mortality, wildlife managers collect information from hunters, landowners, hunting groups and other resource managers.
"When we start to find does that have died, we know the winter has been particularly hard. That's what has happened this year," Dettman said.
In addition to the bucks-only restriction, party hunting has been reduced from four to two people for residents and non-residents. It's been eliminated for foreign residents.
The white-tailed deer season was completely closed in Manitoba from 1974 to 1976 because of seriously low population numbers. Dettman said the bucks-only restriction will likely remain in place for next year as well.
"The good news is that if we have a couple of normal winters, the population can recover fairly quickly and start to rebuild," Dettman said.
Even with restrictions in place, Dettman said an estimated 35,000 licences will still be sold for the coming season. "For so many hunters, it's not only about harvesting a deer. It's about getting out there with friends and family for the traditions of the hunting season."
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, travelling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org