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Winter survival rates for Idaho mule deer, elk above average

Overall, 64 percent of fawns and 77 percent of elk calves collared by Fish and Game were still alive as of May 1.
Credit: ROger Phillips/IDFG
Collared mule deer

BOISE, Idaho — An above-average percent of young mule deer and elk lived through the winter in Idaho this past season, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says.

Overall, 64 percent of fawns collared by IDFG and 77 percent of collared elk calves were still alive as of May 1. The fawns and calves were previously trapped and fitted with telemetry collars to allow biologists to track them and monitor the populations.

Officials say they will continue to monitor the young mule deer and elk, but added that typically, less than 5 percent of the deaths occur after April.

"In years with milder winters, like this one, we tend to see the number or mortalities drop off in May," said Rick Ward, Deer and Elk Program Coordinator. "While we anticipate we will see some additional mortality by the end of the month, the statewide survival of mule deer fawns and elk calves is likely to end up being above average this year, barring an unusual event."

This winter's numbers are expected to end the monitoring period similar to the numbers from the 2019-2020 winter, which would mark two straight years of above-average survival rates. Fish and Game has monitored fawn survival over the last 23 years, with an average of 52% of collared fawns living through the harsher winter months.

The numbers suggest that mule deer herds statewide are growing. 

"Our herd composition surveys last fall were limited to eastern Idaho, but showed us encouraging fawn/doe ratios, and in some cases they were very high, which means we had a good crop of fawns going into the winter," Ward said. "Fawn weights, which indicate how likely they are to survive winter, were high in many places in southern Idaho when we captured and collared fawns in December and January, and we have so far observed above-average survival. These are the conditions that lead to herd growth."

Elk calves, which are more likely to survive the winter than baby deer, have only been trapped and collared since 2014. In that span, their survival rates have ranged from a low of about 52 percent in 2016-17 to a high of 84 percent in 2014-15.

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