There are only a few words to describe the effect the weather last winter had on wildlife – not so good, perhaps even disastrous

Not good when it comes to deer, not so good for pheasants; and possibly not so good for ruffed grouse as well, as time will tell when the hunting season wraps up and harvest tallies are eventually made.

On deer, I heard early that road kills were down across the province, which isn’t a good sign.  A road kill count is one of the “tools” record keepers and statisticians at the Natural Resources wildlife division use to estimate the deer population.  Natural Resources say high deer numbers often result in high road kills, while low road kills generally indicating low numbers of deer.

Even more troubling are the reports of winter deer kills coming in from various sources (woods workers, hikers, trappers and hunters, for example) which indicate many deer starved to death last winter due to deep snows.  I’ve had reports of people finding as many as eight or more deer carcasses in the spring after the snow melted.

There are too many stories floating around of deer die offs last winter to pass them off as fiction.  I’ve asked for verification of this from the Wildlife Division and was told by Natural Resources biologist Peter MacDonald that there were the normal reports on deer losses as is typical of any year. As is also typical, the reports were inconsistent, some areas reporting few deer losses, others the opposite.

However, MacDonald said last winter was harder than normal on deer.  “The deep snows staying on through March and April were a factor.” he said.  “Due to this we lost fawns, yearlings and bucks that would’ve been in poor condition due to rutting.”

The examination of road kill deer this past summer indicates that some 50 percent were at starvation levels, MacDonald said.  Deer weakened by lack of food are more likely to become roadside statistics.

All being said, there definitely was a negative effect on deer by last winter’s severe weather.  How much is yet to be seen.  While all hunting statistics aren’t in yet, MacDonald estimates there could be a 20 percent decline in the deer harvest.  On the positive side, MacDonald noted that in the past three years deer numbers have been increasing.

On pheasants, I hunt some of the best coverts in Nova Scotia and while there were tiny pockets of plenty in places, it’s my estimation that overall, last winter was extremely hard on these birds.  In Kings County, the area where most of the provincial harvest is taken, some of the prime coverts are absolutely barren.  I’ve been hunting pheasants for more than 50 years and I can’t recall a season as bad as this for finding birds.  I know most of the good coverts in Kings County and I’m speaking from experience when I say there are few pheasants in them.  Even more disturbing is the lack hens, which appear to be fewer in number than male birds.

If pheasant numbers are down drastically (and I expect they will be once harvest estimates are made) perhaps Natural Resources look at reducing the bag limit and shortening the season. Pheasants could reach an all time low, especially if the upcoming winter is as bad as the last, and action isn’t taken on lessening hunter impact.

I hope Natural Resources will take a serious look at making adjustments but I’m not expecting much.  Look at what happened with Hungarian partridge.  The hunting season on Huns was closed only when it became obvious few birds were left in the province.  Natural Resources mismanaged the Hun situation; let’s hope they don’t do the same with pheasants.   This magnificent game bird deserves better.

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