Posted on June 23, 2015



(Part I of a II part series)


The Ojibwa tell a story about a time when all the deer had vanished from the land. The humans roamed everywhere looking for them. Owl, who sees the future, found them all in a large corral in the far north. The deer fed and carried on as though they were fine. The owl was curious so he flew to the corral to question the deer. A flock of crows attacked the owl and drove it away. Because it was night, owl escaped harm.

Owl reported the location of the deer to the humans who formed a war party to rescue the deer. Owl led them back to the corral, but when they arrived the crows attacked fiercely, and the battle went on for days. The deer simply watched the battle and made no effort to escape.

Finally the chief of the humans sought a truce. He asked the deer why they seemed unconcerned about the attempt to rescue them, especially since the war party had suffered so many losses. The chief of the deer explained that they were in this place by choice as the crows had treated them far better than the humans ever had. He went on to say that the humans had wasted their flesh, desecrated their bones and spoiled their land. The two-leggeds had dishonored the deer and therefore themselves. After all, the deer chief added, “Without you we can live very well, but without us you die.”

  • Treaty With The Deer – Randall Eaton


If only we could go and locate that corralled deer herd and bring them back. But as we know all too well, that is not possible. From Maine to western Montana; New Brunswick to Alberta; and all across the northern Snow Belt, old man winter has wreaked havoc on whitetails. The very existence of deer in the northern extremity of their range is largely dependent upon the severity of a given winter season. And whether or not the animal survives predicates entirely upon its preparedness and the availability of quality winter habitat.

 Deer crash 8

Let’s face it folks, here in Maine our deer are essentially homeless for at least five months a year, and without a suitable winter home many never make it to see the spring.

Homelessness is a temporary condition that people fall into when they cannot afford to pay for a place to live, or when their current home is unsafe or unstable as a result of tornado’s, floods, fire or any other number of circumstances. It also describes numerous folks who, for a variety of reasons, have no formal place to lay their head. For some, this gypsy lifestyle is a choice, but one a deer doesn’t get to make.


Despite Maine being one of the most heavily forested states in the union, we have essentially rendered our white-tailed deer population homeless for the duration of winter. Nope, they haven’t become snow birds and migrated south for the winter, instead they are here making an attempt to eke out a survival under the most extreme conditions without a proper roof over their heads. And sadly, this is not a temporary situation as it takes 40-years to grow and establish over-winter habitat. Deer herd numbers will continue to ebb and flow as a result of each successive winter’s severity.

Any way you slice it, the winter season for white-tailed deer is truly an endurance test. This is indeed a time when any miscalculation on their part will lead to certain demise. During winters fraught with deep snow, and extremely low temperatures that extend for more than 100 days, deer mortality will be significant. Fortunately, as noted biologist John Ozoga points out,


Whitetails have endured tough winters for thousands of years. They live at the Northern extremes of their geographic range, and have evolved certain physiological and behavioral adaptations to cope with winter. When healthy, and behaviorally wise, they are hardy creatures. So equipped, they can survive cold temperatures, deep snow and nutritional hardships, even under the eye of wolves, coyotes and wildcats.

Prior to the winter of 2006-2007 the north had basked in several consecutive mild winters, which helped facilitate a burgeoning deer population. The significance of a brutal, unforgiving, and tempestuous winter plays out with deer carcasses strewn across the landscape. From the sportsman’s perspective, the emotional effect of such and event generally doesn’t hit until after experiencing a poor deer season following such a major die-off. String successive ultra-severe winters together and we are left with a disaster of epic proportion. This is when responsive ideas and well-meaning initiatives begin to resound throughout the hunting community. I’m just as stricken with emotion when it comes to the whitetail’s plight and I would be lying if I told you different. But  we, as a collective community, need to consider the long-term answer rather than a quick-fix remedy.

Monday morning quarterbacking aside, we can’t undue the current loss of deer, but in order to make the necessary corrective steps to ensure viable, self sustaining deer herds we must first understand the reasons why this calamity resulted in such devastating deer losses. And make no mistake about it, we have reached an all-time low in at least the last 35-years when it comes to hunters taking the kind of bucks Maine became famous for. The famed Biggest Bucks in Maine Club registered less than 300 bucks exceeding the 200-lb bench mark following the 2014 season. This trend is not the result of an unhealthy herd but rather a buck population that has no age structure, due largely to their inability to survive winter’s hardships.


(Can we fix this, if so, how? Tune in next time for part II as answers to help alleviate this ongoing saga are presented.)



All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2015 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

Posted in: Whitetail Deer