To get a professional opinion on how the deer population is doing in Pictou County I recently checked in with Natural Resources Wildlife Division staff. In last week’s column I reported on their assessment of the deer population in Pictou County, most of which is included in Deer Management Zone 109, and it looks like the deer herd is in good shape.
DNR staff collect a lot of data in order to assess the status of deer in the province. One source of data is road kill. Deer picked up on the highway during the winter are examined for bone marrow content and does are checked for the number of fawns they were carrying. Nova Scotia is at the northern edge of the whitetail’s range so severe weather can have a significant impact on deer numbers, and condition, from year to year. By measuring bone marrow fat content they have a good idea how the herd is doing.
In 2015 the results indicated that almost half the herd, 49 per cent, were stressed. Fortunately the results from 2017 revealed only 10 per cent of the deer examined were stressed nutritionally. In 2017 road-killed does had an average of 1.4 fawns per adult doe, a number wildlife managers consider to be representative of a healthy herd.
Deer numbers are also monitored by DNR biologists through a deer droppings, or pellets survey which they carry out in the spring. In 2011 biologists in Nova Scotia estimated that the herd numbered 50,000 animals. This compared with an all-time high of 119,000 animals in 1986 to a low of 42,000 in 1995.
Biologists also depend on antler measurement to provide them with a measure of deer health. When deer are doing well nutritionally extra nutrients are available for antler growth so big antlers indicate a healthy herd. In 2016 the Mean Yearling Antler Beam Diameter was 19.5cm, a figure managers consider ideal as it shows the herd is feeding well on quality habitat and is not overpopulated.
While living at the northern edge of the range may result in year-to-year variation in population numbers one benefit is that deer size increases in northern regions as the animals need to be larger to withstand extreme conditions. As a result large bucks are harvested every year. Big buck contests in Nova Scotia routinely weigh in deer in the 250-pound range.
Nova Scotia offers access to bucks without the requirements of a draw for either resident, or non-resident hunters. Access to does in most deer management zones is limited to resident hunters who must apply through a yearly licence lottery. This was the case for Zone 109 last year when, due to concerns over deer mortality in 2015, managers reduced the doe harvest by implementing a doe draw in this zone. However, after two mild winters the pellet survey this spring revealed that deer numbers in this zone had returned to pre-2015 levels and were at the highest density in 17 years. For this reason, combined with the fact that Zone 109 has lower hunting pressure and high agricultural activity, either sex harvest was restored.
Hunters can play an important role in assisting biologists with their management work in several ways. One is information on antler measurements of bucks they harvest. The second is the harvest summary which accompanies your licence. The results of your hunt, whether you are successful or not, is important for managers. It is also mandatory as it is a requirement of your licence.
If you are successful this season you will come home with some great meals for your family. If you can, consider sharing it with others through the Feed Nova Scotia program, where hunters donate deer, bear or moose meat to help those less fortunate. The 2017 hunting regulations booklet includes a list of approved meat processing facilities that will be happy to accept your donation.
I hope you have a safe and successful hunting season this fall.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.