With outstanding hearing, a keen sense of smell, good eyesight and a wary nature, deer are ever-watchful of potential predators. Deer are the dietary mainstay for most Southeast Alaska wolves, and feed hundreds of human families in Southeast communities. Deer thrive in Southeast Alaska's old growth forests, sub-alpine meadows and beach fringe areas, but populations can fluctuate widely from area to area, largely depending on the severity of local winter conditions.
Winter weather can wreak havoc on a deer population, especially when snow is deep and persists into the spring. When snow gets chest high on deer they expend a lot of energy getting around. It also makes finding nutritious food difficult, and hinders their escape from predators. When snow is deep, deer are restricted to the beach. If the snow persists through the spring, deer can exhaust the available food supply and their fat reserves.
Deer may be found at sea level at any time of the year, but in summer many deer move upslope to the sub-alpine areas. During winter, they favor old growth forests which provide forage and shelter from deep snow.
The Sitka black-tailed deer of Southeast Alaska is a close relative of the mule deer of western North America. Black-tailed deer range up the Pacific coastline from Northern California to the Juneau area, and have been introduced to coastal areas further north and west.
There are two subspecies of black-tailed deer; the larger Columbia black-tailed deer, found in the Pacific Northwest, and the smaller Sitka variety found in British Columbia and Alaska. These deer are quite small compared to the mule deer or white-tail deer most Americans see. They average just 80 pounds for does and 120 pounds for bucks - but some large bucks in prime habitat may reach 200 pounds.
What to look for: Scan the beach-fringe vegetation and shoreline for deer, especially in the evening and early morning hours. Their coat ranges from rusty red to grey-brown. One deer often means others are nearby, use binoculars to inspect the surrounding vegetation for more.