While this winter so far has given Montana plenty of snow and cold, the weather in March and April will determine to a large extent the mortality of animals like deer and antelope in northcentral Montana.
That’s because during the next two months deer and antelope will rely on their energy reserves to survive, waiting for the growing season to begin.
Snow and cold alone do not dictate how many deer and antelope will survive the winter. Survivability starts before the winter begins.
How animals go into the winter – in good or poor shape – largely determines their chance of survival. Deer and antelope store up the necessary fat reserves in the summer and fall to survive winter.
If the summer and fall growing seasons were lush with lots to eat, then chances are good of surviving a harsh winter. If the summer and fall were dry and the landscape like a desert, then deer and antelope will have a tougher time of getting through a long winter season.
Second, whatever shape deer and antelope are in now, they have switched their gas tank onto reserve. A cold and snowy winter season that drags on into late April and even May will be tough to survive. Better to have an early spring.
There’s not much we can do, other than hope for an early spring. Artificial feeding is not a good idea, and it’s illegal.
Deer in particular take time to build up the necessary gut microbes necessary to digest bales of hay. For a deer to switch now to hay may still allow the animal to die of starvation, even with a belly full of hay.
Also, artificial feeding tends to unnaturally concentrate animals, allowing diseases to pass more easily among animals. And bring in predators, like mountain lions.
It’s one thing to feed deer in your backyard, it’s another to have a lion patrolling a yard looking for its next meal.
Nature looks cruel to us sometimes, what with predators and prey. But for everything there is a season, and now we are in the season of waiting for spring.