We present a model on plant—deer—climate interactions developed for improving our understanding of the temporal dynamics of deer abundance and, in particular, how intrinsic (density–dependent) and extrinsic (plants, climate) factors influence these dynamics. The model was tested statistically by analysing the dynamics of five Norwegian red deer populations between 1964 and 1993. Direct and delayed density–dependence significantly influenced the development of the populations: delayed density–dependence primarily operated through female density, whereas direct density–dependence acted through both female and male densities. Furthermore, population dynamics of Norwegian red deer were significantly affected by climate (as measured by the global weather phenomenon, the North Atlantic Oscillation: NAO). Warm, snowy winters (high NAO) were associated with decreased deer abundance, whereas the delayed (two–year) effect of warm, snowy winters had a positive effect on deer abundance. Our analyses are argued to have profound implications for the general understanding of climate change and terrestrial ecosystem functioning.