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Colorado Deer Expected to Gather At Last Year's Feeding Stations

December 19, 2008.

From the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

When the snow begins to pile up again in the Gunnison Basin, mule deer will likely show up at the feed sites established last winter by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. This will not necessarily be a sign that the deer are starving, said DOW officials.

"Like all animals, deer are creatures of habit and they remember where they find easily available sources of food," said J Wenum area wildlife manager in Gunnison. "When we see them at the feeding sites this year, depending on the winter conditions, it may not mean they are in trouble."

The DOW reminds people that they shouldn't provide any type of feed to deer or attempt to get close to them. Feeding big game is illegal unless authorized by the DOW.

"A feeding operation is only authorized under very severe conditions," Wenum said. "Deer are well adapted to the tough Gunnison winters. But last year was certainly one of the most extreme winters experienced in the Gunnison Basin." 

Last year's feeding operation was an extraordinary event because of the unusually deep snow and extremely cold temperatures. In an average winter deer can find enough natural forage.

But even average winters are tough on health animals.  Deer usually lose about 20 percent of their body weight during winter and that decline in body mass means that weaker animals will not make it to the spring. Even during average winters, that 15-20 percent of the deer herd may die.  Survival depends greatly on the health of the deer going into the winter.

Last year's abundant winter moisture helped guarantee plenty of wild forage throughout the Gunnison Basin during the summer and fall. The warm weather that lasted late into fall also means that deer have access to plenty of food and have been able to put on fat stores for the winter. Until snow begins to accumulate, deer will remain spread across the basin and find good sources of food. As snow piles up they will move into traditional winter range areas - many of which include the feeding sites.

"We are likely to see a lot of deer in those areas because of the feeding last winter," Wenum said.  

Elk are well adapted and have high survival rates even during extreme winter conditions. Last winter, the DOW baited elk with hay spread by snow-cats and helicopter to keep them away from ranchers' haystacks, deer feeding sites, and off main roads and highways. It is anticipated that elk also may return to the bait sites.

In early January, DOW big game biologists will begin their annual classification and census flights throughout the basin. With that work, the DOW will better understand how many deer survived the winter of 2008. Flight data will also provide timely information necessary for discussing and setting hunting license allocation for 2009.

If game damage circumstances arise with either deer or elk, ranchers and landowners should contact their local District Wildlife Manager or the Gunnison DOW office at (970) 641-7060.

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