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Minnesota deer herd already in mid-winter mode; numbers may suffer

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Deep snow followed by a deep freeze means Minnesota whitetails are already in a little too deep for their liking.

The Duluth News Tribune says reports from the field indicate deer are already showing behaviors they usually resort to only in late winter, if at all. A wildlife photographer tells the newspaper he's seen deer congregating in the cover of conifer stands, in a practice known as "yarding up."

As Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager Chris Balzer explains in the article "There’s a lot of snow stuck in the spruce and balsam fir trees, and that means less on the ground." In addition, the conifers provide a windbreak and attract more sunlight than the surrounding snow. But Balzer says yarding up typically occurs in late winter and in mild years it may not happen at all.

This year Minnesota's deer herd was already a little smaller than normal coming into the winter. That's one reason hunters took 6 percent fewer whitetails this fall.

The executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association tells the News Tribune he's also heard that deer have been spotted pushing snow. “That’s a good indication that it’s going to be a tough winter for deer,” Mark Johnson says.

The northland was in the grip of arctic temperatures again Sunday, when it got down to 32 below zero in International Falls. But the forecast calls for comparatively balmy highs in the 20's early this week.

Even in parts of the state that aren't buried under snow and below zero, there are hazards for the whitetail. Witness the trio who wandered onto Albert Lea Lake this month and spent days floundering on the lake's ice before neighbors with a hovercraft located the deer and towed them to safety.

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