White-tailed Deer: The Impact of Drought Conditions

By GrowingDeer,

  Filed under: Hunting Blog

As deer enthusiasts and managers, we put a lot of work and time into ensuring that our deer herd is healthy. This is never an easy job, but it becomes even more difficult when nature just isn’t cooperating.

Hand of dry soil

We’ve been in a wicked drought here at The Proving Grounds. We typically receive 14 inches of rain between May and July but have only gotten 7 inches during that same period this year. Plants require water for growth and deer require water for basic internal processes.

deer in an overbrowsed food plot

Drought has a way of compounding problems. Deer can usually acquire their water needs from forage, but during dry conditions, water from forage is often insufficient. Increased distance to water means increased energy expenditures. The more energy that a deer uses to find resources, the more it must obtain to meet basic biological needs.

Drought stunted and heavily browsed food plots add another source of stress. Under these less than ideal conditions, bucks cannot express their antler or body potential. Adult does not only have to supply their own energy needs but must also produce energy-rich milk for their fawn(s). Fawns that are born and raised during drought conditions will be at a deficit the following year compared to fawns raised in a nutrient-rich environment. Remember, deer allocate resources to maintenance (survival) processes like digestion and metabolism first, and then to production processes such as body mass and antler size.

Short of irrigating food plots, there’s only so much that managers can do to provide herds the resources they need. Drought proof water sources are excellent habitat features. It’s been so dry here at The Proving Grounds that we’ve resorted to filling kiddie pools with water across the property.

kiddie pool with water for deer

Manage your property with the bad years in mind. Develop permanent watering holes and areas of drought-resistant native vegetation. They will be the icing on the cake during good years and the life-preserver during bad years.

Grant has often reminded us that we should strive to keep deer populations in check so they thrive during tough conditions. The drought conditions here are exacerbated by having more deer than the habitat’s current carrying capacity. Stay tuned as we head into hunting season and see how our management actions pay off!

Enjoying Creation and life at The Proving Grounds,

Luke Resop

GrowingDeer intern, summer 2018