With record-breaking flood levels along the mighty Mississippi from Tunica to Natchez, outdoorsmen and wildlife fans were left wondering if the Delta's deer would survive. Did the deer losses number in the hundreds, or maybe in the thousands? Will the surviving deer starve? And how long will it take them to starve? Would there be any deer left in the Mississippi Delta? Would their numbers ever rebound to allow hunting again? How long would it take for the population to rebound, if it ever does?

These are just a few of the questions concerned sportsmen were asking themselves and others during the recent flood. Chad Dacus, wildlife biologist and deer coordinator with the Mississippi Departmen of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, recently discussed the impact of flooding on our state's whitetail deer population with Mississippi Sportsman magazine.

"I don't think the deer we have here were harmed
as much as in other places, such as Southeast Louisiana or Missouri, because the water came up slow," Dacus said. "Deer were able to leave when their feet got wet."

And that's a very important part of this equation, as Mississippi wasn't hit with a flash-flood type of situation where thousands of deer could have been stranded or drowned.

"We know that there were some deer in Arkansas that Arkansas Game and Fish had GPS collars on and were monitoring that were on Choctaw Island in the Mississippi River, and those deer have left the island," Dacus said. "They are alive and moving around, with four or five moving into Mississippi and the rest moving back west to Arkansas."

An added bonus to those deer being monitored is that we will know if and when those deer come back.

"Dr. Harry Jacobsen, formerly of Mississippi State University's deer program, conducted a study of the deer on Davis Island many years ago when another flood covered the island," Dacus said. "They had 13 collared deer that they were following, and all of them that left the island in the flood came back except one."

And that's good news for everyone.

According to Dacus, the bucks leave the affected flood areas first, and then the does leave later.

"While the bucks are the first to leave, the does are the first to come back," he said.

Another important fact that many people are not aware of is that many of the localized areas in the delta flood almost every year, and it hasn't had significant negative impact on the deer herd. They flood both inside the main levee system and in low swampy areas of the delta outside the levee system.

"The Delta National Forest gets water on it and floods every year," Dacus said. "It got flooded during the 2008 flood, and they fared well back then also."

The deer have grown used to widely fluctuating water levels, and learned to adapt and live with them. They simply move to higher ground when the water rises and then return when the water goes down.

Will the deer survive?

But this flood was much greater than the normal rise and fall of water levels in the smaller local areas where deer simply move short distances while their home territories are impacted.

"Once the water flooded the backwater levees, the deer left and a lot of them went to the hills," said Dacus. "We don't think the deer got trapped during this flood, and we haven't heard of a lot of concentrations of them on the levees."

There have been some sightings of deer getting penned on some places in the Tunica area in the northwest part of the state. Others have reportedly seen deer on levees in the extreme southern delta area.

"I've been on the levees in the Lake George area, and didn't see any deer trapped on those levees with water on both sides and I didn't see any evidence that the deer were eating the vegetation along the levee," Dacus said.

If the majority of deer survive, as we have every indication to believe will happen, will they succumb to the aftermath of the flood due to food shortages?

"As far as I know and have heard from people on the levees, nobody has seen indications that the browse is affected, or of overbrowsing occurring," said Dacus. "And most of them have already left for higher ground and areas that have food anyway."

But what about after the water recedes, will there be enough food left?

"Once the water recedes, the green vegetation should jump back up, as it did after the flood in the spring of 2008," Dacus said. "I'm pretty optimistic that when the water recedes we'll have a spring flush and everything will come back, all the greenery, and food shouldn't be a problem."

"Past floods have shown us that they rebound pretty well."

If the deer survive, will they ever come back to their core areas? Many sportsmen and hunters have understandably been concerned that the deer that left their areas won't ever return.

"We've learned that as soon as the water recedes, they start coming back," Dacus said. "People have reported that as the water receded each day you could see fresh deer tracks at the water's edge."

Fawn survival

According to Dacus, the does will begin birthing their fawns in the North Delta near Tunica in mid June and going through mid July on farther south in the Delta Region.

"Does want to fawn at home; however, they will fawn in other places," Dacus said. "There will be some decline in reproduction, but not as great as some may perceive.

"And some of those deer may not rush back to their home areas until the fawns are ready."

The reproduction rate of 1-year-old does may be affected more than older does, according to Dacus, as they have not experienced these conditions before.

"The 4-year-old does that went through the previous floods know how to handle things as they've experienced this before," he said. "The survival rate should be good."

The first two weeks after birth is the key to survival, according to this deer expert. But most of the deer will have already moved to where there is food, so that shouldn't be a problem.

"In 2008, many of the bowhunters were concerned that they weren't seeing any does and fawns, and thought that they were dead or gone forever," Dacus said. "When December came, it was like a light switch had come on, and the does and fawns were moving everywhere."

Evidently the does had stayed in their birthing areas longer and returned much later than many of the hunters had expected. The does may have waited longer to come back until the fawns were able to move and make it on their own much easier.

"Next year reproduction should be through the roof," said Dacus. "That's what we've seen in the past, and there's no reason to believe otherwise this time.

"Any time you have even a slight reproduction in one year, the next year usually experiences a boom in reproduction."

Deer population monitoring

"We're working with biologists both public and private, in sharing knowledge and information with each other to benefit everyone," Dacus said. "There are a lot of private biologists who manage private properties, and they will share their expertise and knowledge gained from their encounters and assessments of their local deer herds with everyone else."

Dacus also advised that they are staying in touch with the biologists across the Mississippi River to see what their situation is and the impact the flood has on their deer as well.

"We will be monitoring the situation for a long time, and we're going to stay on top of it," he said.