The top hardship whitetail deer face in Maine is the lack of habitat in this rough climate. It’s the No. 1 issue listed in Maine’s Game Plan For Deer.

At the northern end of its range, the whitetail deer struggle in deep snow — which Aroostook County has each and ever year and the rest of Maine sees a lot of, too.

Once again, this year, according to Maine deer biologist Lee Kantar, deer got hit with another tough winter, based on the winter severity report that he just completed.

“It’s a mixed bag. Downeast was harder than usual. If you look at southern and central Maine on average it probably was harder than normal,” Kantar said. “The far north was easier than normal, but as you get further north, even an easy winter is tough on the deer.

“The take-home message is that: January and February were hard statewide on the deer.”

In Maine, a hard winter is a relative term.

At the northern tip of Maine, the average length of time deer “yard” in the winter, when the animal remains confined to its winter yards with protective cover, is 130 days, Kantar said.

This winter, deer were only confined to winter yards for 105 days, well under the average. But that’s more than three months.

Toward the middle of the state, around Moosehead Lake, the average yarding period is 119 days. This year, Kantar said deer spent up to 105 days in yards.

Once again, below the average. But still brutal.

“Over the long term, it’s pretty rugged on deer,” Kantar said. “Even though March mellowed out, there was still enough snow on the ground to retain the deer quite a lot into April.”

Elsewhere the yarding periods were above average.

Central Maine snow depths usually keep deer confined for 84 days. This year deer spent 91 days in wintering yards, Kantar said.

“Another week makes a pretty big difference,” he said.

Winter severity is measured in a number of ways, but as far as snow depth, it makes things tough. If the winter is long but with only a foot of snow, deer can move around.

If it’s short (by Maine standards) but with more than 3 feet of snow, it’s hard because the deer can’t move beyond their deer wintering yards to feed.

Sure, the 2009-10 winter was a mild one. That helped out the deer herd.

Just 37 inches fell in southern Maine during the 2009 to 2010 winter — well off the average of 66 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

But it was the eighth mildest winter on record — and Maine’s records date back to 1880.

So don’t expect a cushy winter like that to help the deer very often. A year later, the winter on the deer was harder than average, based on the data compiled by wildlife biologists statewide.

But maybe that tells the true story of whitetails in Maine. Kantar said some parts of Maine were average. Around Windham and Gray, there was an average winter in terms of snow depth, but elsewhere it was tough on the deer, even southern Maine, he said.

“I’d say it wound up to be a hard winter, but not extraordinary,” Kantar said. “Already we’ve reduced (any-deer) permits. So we’ll see a reduction in harvest by design. That should put us in good shape, barring another extreme winter.”

The problem is, that’s the element nobody can control.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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