Hunters take the high road

Warm winters change hunting conditions and boost deer herds

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2006

The unseasonably warm winters over the past several years have been bad for skiers, but they appear to be a good thing for the Sitka blacktail deer of Southeast Alaska. As for the deer hunters - it depends on whom you ask.

The warm trend over the past several winters has provided some advantageous conditions for deer, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Juneau Area Wildlife Management Biologist Neil Barten said. The lack of snow in the alpine has left more food sources available, required less energy for deer to survive, and has allowed the population to remain spread out and less competitive.

"I would expect that we're carrying a pretty good number of deer right now," Barten said.

The warm 2005 deer hunting season, which ended Dec. 31, seemed to have its advantages and disadvantages for hunters. Without the snow pushing the deer down the mountains, the hunters who enjoy trudging through the woods could get a good hike, but limited daylight hours meant keeping a tight schedule.

"It takes a while to get up that high and then you don't have that much time," Barten said. "It leaves a very short window for the hunters to pursue the animal."

And what would often be snow in Decembers of years past was primarily rain this season.

"You have to be pretty dedicated to stomp around in the woods when it's pouring down rain for days on end, but then again, hunters will do that," said Mike Sofoulis, owner of Alaska Coastal Guiding.

Barten, also an avid deer hunter, said snow can aid hunters in tracking deer and can help highlight them in the dull winter light.

"Snow certainly does increase your chances of tracking a deer down," ADF&G Regional Supervisor for Southeast Doug Larsen said.

Ryan Davis, 44, has been hunting deer on Admiralty Island for more than 30 years in the same area. He said hunters have to be careful of their shot selection when there is no snow on the ground.

"If you make a bad shot and there's no snow on the ground, you have some tough going finding that deer," Davis said.

He said he stumbled upon a buck this season that had dashed off from a hunter and died of its wound.

Warm weather in recent years seems to be adding to the overall survival rate of deer, Davis said.

"These last six years have been pretty mild. The deer have a good chance in a mild winter," he said. "There's a lot of deer this year. I always pass up the does because I know those are my next year's deer."

Davis said the deer will sleep easy if January and February are warm.

"Hopefully what we don't get is a really heavy, nasty winter from here on out," Davis said.

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