Currently IDFG is tracking 182 mule deer fawns and 149 elk calves throughout winter and early spring. These youngsters were captured in the fall/early winter and fitted with tracking collars. Which will allow biologists to follow their what, where, when and how, in regards to mortality rates for these two species. The more we know and understand about what “happens and when” the more we can contribute to the implementation of countermeasures.
As of now, approximately 30% of the mule deer fawns and nearly 10% of the elk calves have already died statewide. These numbers don’t jump out too much, but they are concerning. We can see very similar numbers over the past five winters, however, the scary part is March and April are often the toughest months for these critters as their fat reserves are minimal and they need time to transition from fall forage to spring forage which can result in a high mortality rate if we have rough weather in March and April.
Long story short, this makes for a potential killer recipe. Not to mention areas like SE Idaho where we know the snowfall and record cold temperatures are crushing deer and elk populations, for example, Unit 69 near Idaho Falls is showing roughly 45% mortality of fawns and Unit 75 is at a whopping 67% fawn mortality! What does this mean for deer and elk in the Gem State? Well, that is a multi-faceted answer. But we can assume that 2023 hunting in many areas will continue without major changes, however, with die-offs we can be assured that only the fittest animals survive, this is typically mature bucks and does.
If you aren’t paying attention to numbers of fawns it might seem like things are okay this year, but in 2-5 years we will see the disparity. Thus, we need to strongly consider how we as sportsmen and women hunt these areas. IDFG tries to preserve animals with permit reductions, season closures, etc. However, it is inevitable that you will find areas offering permits for animals that you and I as hunters should strongly consider how we hunt/harvest. Just because you have a tag for a doe or buck doesn’t mean you should fill it on a healthy doe or young buck… It is up to us to hold the line in some instances and teach others the same. Shooting a dry doe or old, saggy-eared, gray faced buck won’t affect numbers very much, it might even help. But shooting young bucks or a doe in her prime will have a noticeable impact on herd health in many areas throughout the state, especially over the next couple years.
We will keep you posted as reports come in later in April. Right now we can hope and pray for a mild-ish spring and keep tabs on the SE Idaho units as snow melts off.