White-tailed deer in need of urgent overhaul

For hunters, fishermen and conservationists up the Valley, my Pembroke Daily Observer Outdoors Column is out today; in print and online:



White-tailed deer herds in Eastern Ontario in need of urgent overhaul

White-tailed deer
(White-tailed deer family group gathers at lake-side – photo taken at Kenauk Nature in Montebello 2012)

Our region’s once burgeoning deer population appears to be in peril and, in this writer’s opinion, urgent game management is required.

As a passionate conservationist and hunter for the past 35 years, I have studied big-game management, counted pellets groups for the MNR and managed winter deer yards. I have been called a biologist, outdoor writer and a highly dedicated deer enthusiast. During the winter months, as many of you know, I operate a small backyard feeder where I monitor behavioural patterns on a small local herd, while photographing the majestic animals that venture into my back field.

What I witnessed this year firsthand and following several reports from hunt camps across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, our deer friends are evidently not in good shape!

Deer population in decline

Over the past few years things in my Quebec deer woods appeared to be on the rebound, however, numbers this fall are noticeably bleak. Predator levels continue to soar in most regions and whitetail populations are in obvious need of assistance in order to rebound correctly. As I continue to micro-manage my own deer, it is discouraging to see a herd in such a state of disarray. My family territory serves as a grim reminder of how bad things really are.

Following five days of solid hunting, which includes some proven deer drives and not a single whitetail was observed.  Folks, there is no longer room for ‘meat hunters’ under the current condition of our whitetail woods. From what I witnessed this fall it will take several years of controlled harvests, improved winter deer yard management and wise management choices from both Quebec and Ontario wildlife agencies to get back on track.  Better still, close the season down completely for a year or perhaps two, but of course governments would never go for that.

Shades of 2008

Moving through the new millennium was a turning point in Central Canada as deer herds were blossoming big time. By the fall of 2006 and 2007 whitetail numbers and annual harvests where highest they had ever been. Deer populations in eastern Ontario reached densities as high as 14 deer/km2 and Quebec saw their highest annual harvest in 2007 with an impressive 75,000 animals. Hunter success rates continued to soar and all seemed right in the deer world. Then the record-breaking snowfall of 2008 was upon us like a cloak of darkness – spelling doom and disaster for ungulate populations. Whitetail numbers in some areas plummeted by more than 1/3.

It has been a very slow rebuild since that time and now whitetail numbers appear to be faultering again back to levels seen in 2009 – 2010. We need hunters and government agencies on-board in order to properly address this issue, and for goodness sake let’s hope it isn’t too late!

Ice-fishing safety

Not only is ice hut registration a requirement by law it goes a long way in preventing wayward huts later in the season.  Abandoned huts which end-up in waterways after the thaw will create havoc for boaters and early season fishermen. To register your hut in Pembroke District, please call the ministry office at: (613) 732-3661 .

New local hunting and fishing magazine to launch this fall!

Following my announcement of the new hunting and fishing magazine – Fish, Hunt & Ride (FHR) featuring yours truly as editor-in-chief, there have been more exciting developments. When FHR is distributed early December, sportsmen up the Ottawa Valley and throughout Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec will be given a real treat.  FHR Mag not only includes a regular column by Pembroke native Jordan Durocher (and a selection of other great writers from QC & ON) but the one and only ‘Uncle’ Ted Nugent will also be a HUGE part of FHR with his own regular column. Check out our website: http://www.fishhuntandride.ca/


14 thoughts on “White-tailed deer in need of urgent overhaul”

  1. Let me kick off the festivities with a repeat of a post I put up seconds before this thread started! (On the request of our fearless columnist, Outdoorsguy)

    This is the first year since 1990 I have not seen a single scrape in my bush, or anywhere for that matter. Of course coyote predation should be considered in deer management plans, but I believe that while coyote populations play a role here, I believe they are only a small part of it. Poaching used to be estimated but I think that sort of went away when the population burgeoned. I suspect it will become a bigger factor again as people grab their lights and hit the road to fill their freezer. 2 week season was a good idea when the deer were thick, but now it’s hurting an already declining population. Add the ‘black powder’ season, which with technology advances is basically just another rifle season with a little more smoke. Same goes with crossbow technology; more power and better accuracy in the right hands, but it’s a very long season and I would hazard to guess a lot of deer die without being tagged or found for that matter. No one reports how many are wounded and not found but I bet those numbers are high. I know guys that can hit a dime every time at 35 yards but everything is different in a tree stand and live targets and they have wounded their share.
    All of those things are accentuated with a few tough winters and it takes it’s toll on what we don’t harvest in the 3 month window we have to fill our tags. The weather, and maybe the coyotes, are the only things we don’t have control over. My uneducated opinion, take it or leave it.
    On a completely different slant, I saw a bald eagle this morning snacking on a road kill raccoon. When I tried to get a pic of him I noticed a large Red Tailed hawk in a tree waiting his turn. Didn’t get a shot of either of them. Nice to see them occasionally.

  2. Not to change this serious subject but I see in the Sun where a guy came across a massive wild? hog and shot it. Turns out it was someone’s pet more than ten kilometers away. We’ll Thomas Blair, you did exactly the right thing. According to the MNRF they are to be shot on sight and that’s exactly what you did. This is exactly how herds of non indigenous pigs get a foothold. There are all kinds of problems throughout the U.S. with ferel pigs and we are having enough problem with our native wildlife without introducing new problem species.

    1. Iggy, that Big Boy story was unfortunate for sure, but yes Thomas Blair was completely within his rights to shoot that hog. Of course, having done some coverage on the ‘east-end escaped hogs’ story myself last year, I KNEW that monster boar could not have been one of those. The escaped hogs were a fraction of that size and there’s no way they could gain 200-250 pounds in one year!

      None the less, someone has a pork in the freezer!


  3. I feel ever since the minstry let hunters buy multiple deer tags the hunting has been poor.Way to many deer taken and the deer herds couldn,t rebound.All in the name of money.
    Just a stupid move by the minstry

    1. marc L, you are absolutely right! Way too many hunting opportunities available..on BOTH sides of the river!!


  4. Let me introduce the possibility of an alternate scenario here; that the deer are locally scarce, and locally abundant, due to the unusual fall weather and other pressures. For instance, if you go to Mont Tremblant Village, the deer are rampant, although protected.

    There are a number of variables that could account for this.

    Here in Ontario WMU 64A and 64B, deer have been seen in pretty much the same abundance as during the last few years, with the exception of the time of day. Most bucks have been active at night, according to my trail cameras. Only one notable buck has been recently day-active and he is deceased.

    Feedback from local butchers indicates a slight decrease in numbers but that could be due to a current preference in DIY precessing.

    Val Des Monts in Quebec seems to still hold a good number of deer (personal experience) if that is any indication.

    That being said, it is of utmost importance that a balance be maintained between harvest and conservation of the population. For the good of us all.

    1. As Maple and I have been discussing ‘behind the scenes’…there appears to be ‘Regional Disparities’ with regards to deer numbers. Crown land numbers appear way down while other areas seem to be stable (or increasing). Take the public land around my QC hunt camp for example..an area that receives a ton of hunting pressure. Numbers are scant few at best. Just an hour away in Montebello at Kenauk where hunting pressure is limited and territory is managed..deer numbers are much higher.

      I predict that anyone hunting large tracts of private land this fall did better, relatively speaking, than those hunters with only access to crown land. Based on that, and lets say other whitetail ‘limiting factors’ such as vehicle collisions, disease etc remain equal. The main issue here appears to be a ‘management concern’. In areas of high hunting pressure, something needs to be done to protect the species.

      Oh, and sorry to all ‘meat hunters’ out there..it was not a deliberate snub..just trying to make a point about game management.


  5. Big pigs still breed and we don’t need flocks(herds) of hogs running through corn fields upsetting farmers. Imagine how bad it would be with the way dome farmers are legitimatly complaining about 20 lbs turkeys.
    Anyway after reading the hunting forums it seems as if there are a lot of places in southern Ontario with a good herd of deer

  6. Our camp enjoyed about the same success as last year. We did see quite a few more deer this year, but lack of doe tags/herd management allowed some of them to walk another day. We saw 6 different bucks the first two days, mostly 1 1/2 year old deer. We did not see any mature bucks. Seems like there is a good crop of young deer coming up in our area. Let’s hope mother nature doesn’t kick up a big fuss this winter like she did in 2008!

  7. Meat hunters as opposed to ____ ? Why else would a person shoot a deer?
    There are pockets of deer and certainly a direct relation to pressure and access. They aren’t stupid and they will go where they aren’t bothered. All you have to do is be aware on your early morning or evening drives, or notice the lack of vehicle collisions being reported to know that the numbers are down. I don’t believe it’s critical yet but another tough winter will really hurt, so it would be best to make changes now. Hunters have become accustomed to seeing lots of deer but it’s tougher now and likely to be that way for a few years.
    btw, if your lost hog makes it’s way to my property, it’s going down. Permission from MNRF or not.

    1. Unfortunately the term ‘meat hunter’ has taken on an almost derogatory connotation…around our hunt area anyway. Where we are a ‘meat hunter’ is someone who’ll take any deer..at any cost… regardless of the implications. I do realize it is their ‘right’ to shoot what is legal and rightfully theirs, however in an area of high hunting pressure, this mentality does not serve well in any long-term plan. Of course, hunters hunt for meat but in recent years the number of people ‘on the take’ has increased in my opinion.

      I suppose we could change that expression to ‘greed hunters’ instead of meat hunters…


  8. Sorry to be coming to this thread so late Outdoors Guy. Our group got five this year, which is pretty good considering we were rained out for three days. There were also some missed opportunities, mostly by me. So we didn’t really notice a decline in numbers. We did notice that there was not the usual amount of buck activity, i.e., scrapes. We put our trail camera up when the hunt ended and my son just went to the cottage and downloaded the photos today. The photos are all of large bucks, quite remarkable. We’ve never had so many bucks on the cameras before. I wonder if the mild weather in the two week hunting period had something to do with the lack of activity by the bucks?

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