Flood Effects on Whitetail: The Good and the Bad

Flood Effects on Whitetail: The Good and the Bad
Though we may not think about it, fawns are dramatically affected by rising flood water. Whether being swept away, or getting displaced to areas with too many deer, fawn recruitment will be impacted. (Photo courtesy of Steve Smolenski)

Bone Collectors weigh-in on negatives but point out possible silver lining

If you have paid attention to the news lately, whether or not you live in Texas or Oklahoma, you’ve probably seen photos and videos of massive flooding. Many areas across the country have had rapid rainfall events leading to flash floods, saturated soil, and the forecast doesn’t show much change.

Due to all of the rain, the impact on people has been both good and bad. Good that many areas with prolonged droughts are getting some relief, and bad that some families have had their lives turned upside down.

Excessive rainfall leading to floods also greatly impacts wildlife. These conditions can dramatically affect things like upland bird hatches, furbearer populations and home ranges of white-tailed deer herds.

This time of year, many whitetails across the country are going through an energy demanding, stressful time. From the late stages of pregnancy to actually having and caring for fawns, does are facing incredible amounts of stress. Typically opting for small core areas where resources are optimum, does will spend several weeks in these secluded areas with their fawns.

With many rivers and streams swelling over the banks, fawns can become vulnerable to flood waters. This was the case for two fawns in northern Missouri that were part of an ongoing deer research project with the Missouri Department of Conservation and University of Missouri. Though no conclusions can be drawn from this project, other research has concluded that fawn recruitment is likely to be affected. The bigger impact won’t necessarily be from fawns falling victim to flood waters, like the two in Missouri; it will be from exhausted resources. Flooded bottomlands will displace deer into other areas that may not be able to support the increased number of deer.

Researchers from the Mississippi State University Deer Lab found that when major rivers flood – such as the Mississippi – deer shifted their home ranges by 10 to 15 miles. That could be a dramatic effect on your hunting season depending on the timing.

Travis “T-bone” Turner, of Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector TV show, has been paying attention to the recent flooding events and had a few additional points of interest.

“A negative of flood waters is the increase in bugs and mosquitos, which are pain to deal with (during) hunting,” T-Bone said. “It increases the chances for disease among the deer herds, which in some ways thin the herd.”

In that statement, T-Bone was referring to the possibility of diseases, such as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which is spread by midges that breed in mud flats during the summer. These mud flats are often created as spring flood waters recede, leaving small fading pools that deer congregate around in the summer heat.

On the flip-side, water is essential for life. Nick Mundt, also part of the Bone Collector crew, pointed out the silver lining for this fall.

“Every animal needs water to survive, and the recent rains are sure to make big antlers and healthy critters going into summer,” Mundt said.

With much of the major flooded areas in Texas and Oklahoma being in epic drought conditions, is it really too much rain? For some areas, yes.

There’s massive flooding affecting human and wildlife populations negatively. But for others, the rain is welcomed with open arms and hooves. These excessive rains could unleash deer hunting opportunities this fall that hunters have not experienced since the 1980s.

In next week’s Everything Deer column, we will discuss what all of this rain might mean to antler and body size of whitetails in the southwest.

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