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BY Todd Amenrud on Dec. 31, 2016

Combating Winter's Severity

It seems during the past few years our winter’s severities have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. The 2014-15 winter was one of the coldest on record, but the 2015-16 winter hardly showed up at all. Winters nationwide, however, have been growing colder for the past 20 years, and over the past five years, record cold temperatures have been set from Florida to Michigan. Cold temperatures and deep snow can have a devastating influence on a whitetail’s health and indeed whether they live or die. Gamekeepers should do their best to provide whatever necessary to help their herd through winter and reduce stress levels wherever possible.

Although deep snow and below zero temperatures may not happen daily in the south, managers here should also heed these words and do their best to improve winter conditions for the animals within their reach. Unexpected cold temperatures or snow cover, while they might not create the “life and death struggle” some northern herds go through, it can mean the difference between a population that achieves their genetic potential and one that struggles and shows a decline in recruitment, antler and body size and overall herd health.

North of the Mason-Dixon Line, I have always thought that wintertime nutrition was an extremely important detail in maximizing antler growth. Most managers fail to provide adequate wintertime nutrition, whether it’s in the form of natural browse, food plots or supplemental feed. Instead they seem to be overly concerned with “attraction for the hunting season.” However, if a buck doesn’t need to rob their reserves to fill nutritional needs during winter then they’re able to reap the rewards of abundant nutrition during spring and summer rather than trying to scramble to catch-up to put all the fat back on. Year-round nutrition is important, but to me it seems commonsensical to “provide more when they have less.”

During tough times of heavy snow and extreme cold temperatures, every day a whitetail cannot find food or isn’t able to forage they must burn fat reserves to stay alive. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire found that an average adult doe has a three-month supply of body fat when she enters into winter. If she can’t take in more, she will be forced to live off of this stockpile. The colder it is and deeper the snow, the more fat she will burn through. Once the fat reserves are exhausted their bodies begin to burn muscle. This will happen until in the end it will cause starvation and death.

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