The Deer Need Our Help

The Deer Need Our Help

On Monday March 4th, 2019 members of the St. Joseph Island Hunters and Anglers met with the Algoma Fish and Game Club, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), Sault College Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies Program and the Ontario Fur Managers Federation to discuss the health of this year's deer herds.

St. Joseph Island Hunters and Anglers media release: After a round table discussion it became clear that movement of deer within their winter yards could become more restricted and could limit their access to natural food sources, leading to increased deer mortality before the end of the winter. The combination of deep snow and bitter cold temperatures this year has made a hard winter potentially even worse for the deer. The bitter cold causes the build up of fat reserves to become depleted much faster than normal and the deep snow does not allow the deer in some areas to feed far from their major trails limiting their ability to feed on natural browse. Rob Routledge, Professor and Davis Mysko, a student at Sault College, have noted that some of the deer in the Desbarats area have started eating a number of woody plants that are considered starvation foods in the region (e.g., speckled alder, balsam fir, red pine, and white spruce) due to inability of their digestive system to extract the nutrients efficiently.

The Deer Need Our Help

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) Biologists have established an early warning system for decision-making about emergency winter deer feeding. It is based on a number of measurements including the Snow Depth Index (SDI) and the Ontario Winter Severity Index (OWSI; a combined measure of sinkable snow depth, snow crust, and aggregated temperature or "chill"). These indices are used to predict, in late January and early February, if emergency intervention is required. Currently predictions indicate the St. Joseph Island deer herd is in the moderate to severe category with projected fawn loss at birth of 20 to 40 percent and if snow depths increase in March and winter is prolonged this number could increase to 60 percent.

Emergency Feeding vs. Supplementary Feeding

Neither the OFAH nor the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry advocates supplementary winter deer feeding, except in extreme emergency situations. Supplementary winter deer feeding implies the ongoing feeding of deer throughout the winter. It is a fairly common practice, especially in some U.S. states and has become common in many areas on the island. There are many good reasons for discouraging annual supplementary deer feeding:

· White-tailed deer have a natural mechanism to help them survive through most winters. The natural shortage of food triggers physiological processes that result in a reduction in the deer’s metabolism. Their body temperature drops, they become less active, and they require less food. Supplementary feeding counteracts this mechanism - the deer receive more food, and this causes them to need more food.

· It makes deer dependent on human hand-outs. When continued year after year, it results in ever increasing numbers of deer relying on the landowner who inevitably finds that the effort becomes too expensive. In this sense, supplementary feeding creates a deer problem, especially when the program is discontinued.

·Some of the feeds provided to deer in supplementary deer feeding programs such as corn and hay can be fatal to deer that are not preconditioned to receive it.

·Prolonged supplementary deer feeding programs on St. Joseph Island appear to be drawing deer from their natural winter yards and once started will need to continue well into April.

Emergency winter deer feeding in contrast, is conducted very deliberately, according to an established need, and with proper feeds that are safe and nutritious. It is usually conducted in mid- to late-February, and sustained until deer disperse to summer range (April or later).

At this time,if you know of established deer yards on your property you could assist the deer by making deer yard improvements such as packing trails for deer to escape natural predators and to access natural deer browse such as red maple, and cedar. Also by cutting and placing hardwoods and cedar that are out of reach and placing near known trails will help to create natural feed.

For more information and background resources please see: or contact the St. Joseph Island Hunters & Anglers via our web site at