The Effects a Hurricane has on Local Deer Population



Watching the rain from Hurricane Irene out my window made me think about how this might affect our local deer populations and how that might translate to affect our upcoming bow season only a few weeks away.  Pleasantly surprising to me, scientists have done a couple of research studies tracking tagged deer throughout hurricanes and evaluating how the deer's patterns changed from before the hurricane and after the hurricane. Here is some scientific info on how hurricanes can positively and negatively affect the deer population and their patterns.

The conundrum…

My main concern was that the hurricane would affect the travel movements of the local deer population.  Think about it…some of us have had our trail cameras in the field for weeks checking out our local population and speculating on what type of harvest we might have a shot at on opening day.  Like clockwork, our trail cams can pick out deer that wander through our hunting grounds on a daily basis traveling from their bedding area to a food source and back again.  What happens if the deer change their patterns or bedding/feeding areas altogether and move to a different area that seems less threatening?  We hunt in the Loch Raven reservoir area mostly and we know that a portion of that property is watershed…meaning that it could flood in a situation such as a hurricane!

The answers…

Two of the studies were conducted in Florida and studied deer populations and their habits before and after hurricane’s Andrew in 1992 and Georges in 1998.  Another study was held in France, Germany and Switzerland during the impact of Hurricane Lothar in 1999.  Each study often cited the others because the information and data was shockingly similar in each case.  I will focus more on the Florida studies for the remainder of this article.  Let’s look at some answers to the survival rate of deer during the storm, repercussions for survival after the storm, and how the storm affects deer travel.

Survival during the storm…

During Hurricane Andrew 32 white-tailed deer were radio marked and tracked; during Hurricane Georges 52 deer were tracked.  All of the deer during Hurricane Andrew survived and only one fatality occurred during Hurricane Georges and the cause of death was drowning.  This means that a white-tailed deer population would have over a 98% chance of survival during the storm.  It seems as if our white-tailed friends are very resilient!

Repercussions for survival after the storm…

The local habitat of deer is disturbed during a storm due to uprooted trees and lost branches.  However, this is overall beneficial to the deer because it will open up the forest floor to sunlight which will increase and promote the growth of smaller plants that will provide a food source for the deer.  Remember, for the most part, deer only eat plants and vegetation that is 3 feet off the ground or lower.

The next repercussion was not so positive; Hurricane Andrew hit the Florida Everglades on August 24th, 1992.  Therefore, it hit right in the middle of rut!!  Yes, you read that right, rut in the Everglades is in the end of July and into August through September.  This surprised me and maybe for those of you not familiar with Florida, it surprised you as well.  For more information on rut predictions for the entire state of Florida check out this article from  Needless to say, this disruption of rut caused conception rates to decrease and fetus survival to fall.  This impacted the deer population for the following year as less fawns were successfully born.  Considering that we have a few months to go before rut, I would only be concerned with our little guys that are already born; they might be a likely fatality if they get in flooded areas.  I do not foresee any impact in conception rates from Hurricane Irene.  I just hope that we don’t get another hurricane in late October!

How the storm affects deer travel…

This was the million dollar question for me….and the answer is….it doesn’t affect deer travel from their home areas very much at all.  Deer have strong site fidelity to their home ranges and this did not differ enough to measure during both Florida white-tail studies.  This being said, if your trail cams do not pick up your usual visitors for a couple of days, then that is to be expected.  We are finding that here as well. However, they will stay around whatever they consider to be their home range and will start moving about that area shortly.  We are already seeing our usual visitors back on our trail cams.  Overall, both Andy and I feel relieved that our deer population is resilient and faithful to their home ranges, perhaps opening day will go by without a backward thought of Hurricane Irene.

More information on the deer studies that we surveyed can be found by clicking on the links below:

Florida Study during Hurricane Andrew in 1992

Florida Study during Hurricane Georges in 1998

European Study during Hurricane Lothar in 1999


Did you see any impact on your local deer population due to the recent storm?  Do you think that it will affect opening day?

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