Monday, January 31, 2022

How White-Tailed Deer Cope with Winter Weather

deer in winterAs temperatures drop and snow deepens, you may notice a group of white-tailed deer digging around in an open field or wandering through your yard in search of food. While you may be tempted to feed the deer, they are well adapted to our winter conditions. It is also illegal to feed deer, and it may do more harm than good.

White-tailed deer go through both physical and behavioral changes that improve their survival odds during winter. Deer spend much of the fall season building up fat stores that will provide them with warmth and energy throughout winter. Externally, deer develop a thick winter coat of fur that helps them absorb more sunlight and traps in more body heat.

They have special glands that secrete oils that make their hairs water repellent, keeping them warm and dry. Deer often move less during winter to use less energy. During periods of deep snow, deer may temporarily migrate to areas of dense conifer stands which protects them from wind and holds in heat. This behavior is commonly known as ‘yarding’.

cornWhile at your local hardware or garden store, you may have noticed that bags of cracked corn and other animal feeds have a label reading, “NOTICE TO CUSTOMERS – It is illegal to intentionally feed wild white-tailed deer and moose in New York State.”  Although providing deer with additional food in winter may seem like a good idea, there are negative consequences of doing so. The natural winter diet of a deer consists of leaves and twigs, but when deer are introduced to large amounts of grains (wheat, oats, rye) or corn, the increased carbohydrates can result in acidosis, which can be fatal. Another concern is that by feeding deer in winter, you get them used to your presence and make them less reliant on natural foods. Causing large numbers of deer to gather at feeding sites can also increase the spread of disease among deer or between deer and other animals. It can quickly make deer become a nuisance.

The best way to help deer and other wildlife survive through tough winters is to make sure they have enough natural food during all seasons. You can do this by keeping deer numbers in balance with the habitat and improving the quality of existing natural foods. See Winter Deer Foods and Cutting Browse for Deer Feeding for more information.

Photo of deer by John Lehmann.

Related Stories


Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.




12 Responses

  1. chris cohan says:

    Time to cull the herd for many humanitarian reason.

    Instead of charging hunters a fee how about for a few years placing a bounty on deer. Say, NYS pays each hunter X for each deer until the population is reduced to a manageable size.

    Presently, deer population is larger than when Pilgrims first landed! They are devastating forest undergrowth, denying essential reforestation, spreading Lime Tick Disease, devouring gardens and hedgerows and negatively impacting farms all across the State as well as a cause of vehicular accidents.

    Just imagine all of that extra meat being shared by hunters with their friends-offsetting food costs as well as donating to shelters, food kitchen and others. Sounds like a win/win/win all around.

    • Todd says:

      That is quite a radical proposition. Believe it or not The DEC was just named ‘Agency of the Year’ by the National Deer Association for leadership in white-tailed deer management. I think I pay around $65 a year for my hunting license in NY, there is a basic fee, then I have to pay extra to hunt with my bow, extra for my muzzle loader and extra for doe permits which are widely available in my area. That gives me seven (7) tags and I can legally have two more doe permits transferred to me. The biggest hurdle I face is access to land. Deer have found safe sanctuaries in residential areas with no predators and plenty of access to food. Another difficulty is a large deer population in one area doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an abundance of deer in other areas. I don’t always agree with the DEC in the area of Deer Management but I will admit they do a good job. There are a lot of things in play. They did expand opportunities for deer hunters this year, they gave us a week in September for antlerless deer that I didn’t agree with or take part in for two reasons, the weather was too warm and the state lands I hunt were not partaking in it. My own hunting club wasn’t allowing us to hunt club land in September either. They also gave us a holiday muzzle loader hunt from the day after Christmas through New Years Day and changed the hunting hours from sunrise to sunset to a half hour before and after like just about every other state. That basically legalized what most hunters were already doing anyway. So for my $65 license fee I could deer hunt 90 days if I chose to. There is not a hunter I know who decides not to hunt because of the license fee. There are also programs available for farmers to get nuisance permits for deer, unfortunately I haven’t been successful locating any of those farmers who want me to use their nuisance permits. We eat venison on average four times a week in my house and we know how many deer we need to harvest to maintain that. We certainly don’t want to see a bounty placed on the deer as we value them as a resource.

  2. Boreas says:

    I don’t really understand why “wildlife” food keeps being sold in NYS – especially salt licks and such that are also illegal. If the idea is to feed squirrels (??) corn, sell it in smaller bags.

    If I don’t cover my bushes and small trees, I inadvertantly feed the deer – especially late in winter. I have at least 20 trees/bushes that they haven’t managed to kill yet. But covering and uncovering every season with netting is costly and time consuming.

    Deer do not have to “yard” as much as in the past when snow cover demanded they do so. They don’t get the seasonal mortality or predator pressure they need to maintain healthy numbers. Hunting helps, but cannot be performed close to towns and houses where they have learned to hang out in relative safety (my place!). DEC supposedly responds to individual conplaints, but this seems to be ineffective statewide. It is a problem that isn’t being managed properly.

  3. Chris Cohan says:

    Bow hunting is an answer to suburban hunting. Downstate around Westchester they have sanctioned bow hunters on golf courses and parks. Some sites will be posted to ensure stupid humans stay away.

    Also the hunting is done from stands, up in trees etc with arrows aimed down and if miss go to ground. So even if sites posted that bow hunting will be happening that day and dumb, illiterate or who are you to tell me what to do numbskulls decide to wander near, even they will be safe.

    Further the hunting is done from before dawn to early hours when few folks would be around.

    It’s time to cull the overpopulated herd.

  4. Dan says:

    “It’s time to cull the overpopulated herd.”

    Really, on what grounds?

    There is not a deer population issue the Adirondacks, which is the region/theme of this website. Once you get into the interior of the Forest Preserve, most of which is older forest growth, there simply isn’t the habitat to support many whitetails. But there are some fine bucks in the backcountry.

    Thankfully, there are some private holdings and conservation easements where forest management is practiced. Here, both deer and moose fare better. There are also places that have better natural food sources (beech, oak) than others. Lastly, winter can still take a toll in some years if snow comes early and stays late, like the winter of 2018-19.

    Overall, the Adirondacks are much different than the Southern Zone and even the surrounding foothills.

  5. JB says:

    Agree with Dan on the small size of the Adirondack deer herd. In fact, many people are worried there has been a little bit too much “culling” in places.

    Boreas is right: deer feeding is a hidden epidemic in NYS, hence the “wildlife feed” on store shelves. The fact that DEC even needs to publish this type of press release is a testament to that. We humans have badly disrupted the North American ecosystem and habitat, and it seems that wild cervids have the odds stacked against them more and more. Let’s not make things any worse. DEC has handled CWD possibly better than any other state in this nation. Support them further in that–e.g., push a ban biobased deer attractants. And follow the environmental regulations!

  6. Dan says:

    If you value shooting them or looking at them on the landscape, then there aren’t enough. If you value resilient, diverse native forests, then there are too many. It may be noted that the whitetail deer herd population directly correlates with another destructive, over populated species: home sapiens.

  7. Dan- says:

    Ah, we’ve got two Dan’s here!

    The feed problem is its direct relation to agriculture as many of the products originate from livestock feeding products, including mineral and salt licks, and corn. Then there’s bird seed. Corn is one of the worst things anyone – hunter or not – can feed deer. As a hardcore Adirondack hunter, I despise baiting.

    I also follow the CWD and EHD situation across New York. The debate on urine-based scents is slowly intensifying. To their credit, the industry is doing their best to produce clean products. But I think eventually they will be banned.

  8. FISHDISH says:

    All of these words & thoughts are true however one thought that was not mentioned is that older bucks that have ‘used’ up much of their fat reserves during rutting are more vulnerable to starvation along with yearling deer.

  9. chris cohan says:

    I appreciate all of your views. Some I simply was not aware of. Thank you.

    There is a deer overpopulation problem across NYS. As I wrote there are more deer today than when Pilgrims landed. Sure, there are areas with less deer than others. However, too many areas are overrun by deer with their negative impact on forest, farm, gardens, vehicular accidents, Lime Tick, etc.

    Even at our Adirondack property we are overrun with deer. No scarcity here. If a bow hunter is interested, contact me.

    I wish all hunters well and enough venison to fill their freezers. I enjoy the meat hunters offer me.

    Still, the present situation needs action.

  10. geogymn says:

    Conflicting emotions….I love venison but see the forest suffer.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!