DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — The winter has gotten off to a challenging start for white-tailed deer in northeastern Minnesota, where the deep snow and bitter cold already are pushing them into mid-winter behavior patterns.

Deer "yard up," or gather in numbers, to seek less-deep snow and protection from the cold among the evergreens. Duluth wildlife photographer Michael Furtman has been in the field, and said he's seeing it already, the Duluth News Tribune reported Sunday.

"I walked into one deer yard and saw three bucks and two does," Furtman said. "They're all just lying there, biding their time, trying not to burn energy."

The deer are also seeking cover in conifers and along the North Shore of Lake Superior, and probably will be moving down from ridges to where snow is less deep.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said he's not encouraged by what he's hearing from county foresters in the region.

"They said the deer are pushing snow," Johnson said. "That's a good indication that it's going to be a tough winter for deer."

Northeastern Minnesota's deer population had already declined over the past few years, partly due to some harsh winters and partly because wildlife managers had been trying to bring the population down from the highs of a few years ago. This fall the Department of Natural Resources reduced the number of antlerless deer permits available to hunters in the region in hopes of building the population back up.

Deer have evolved with snow and cold in northern Minnesota, and they change their movement patterns to adapt to deep snow, said Chris Balzer, the DNR's area wildlife manager in Cloquet. Typically, that doesn't happen until later in winter, and some years not at all, Balzer said.

Some people may want to feed deer in these harsh conditions, but Johnson said their digestive systems are not designed to easily break down grains or hay. Most deer will survive without artificial feeding, he said.

"If they can get near browse, that's all they need from now until spring," he said. "Their metabolism has already dropped, and they're already in winter mode. They'll survive."


Information from: Duluth News Tribune, www.duluthnewstribune.com