There are multiple paths via which environmental variation can impact herbivore ecology and this makes the identification of drivers challenging. Researchers have used diverse approaches to describe the association between environmental variation and ecology, including local weather, large-scale patterns of climate, and satellite imagery reflecting plant productivity and phenology. However, it is unclear to what extent it is possible to find a single measure that captures climatic effects over broad spatial scales. There may, in fact, be no a priori reason to expect populations of the same species living in different areas to respond in the same way to climate as their population may experience limiting factors at different times of the year, and the forms of regulation may differ among populations. Here, we examine whether the same environmental indices [seasonal Real Bioclimatic Index (RBI), seasonal Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)] influence body size in different populations of a large ungulate living in Mediterranean Spain, Western Scotland and Norway. We found substantial differences in the pattern of weight change over time in adult female red deer among study areas as well as different environmental drivers associated with variation in weight. The lack of general patterns for a given species at a continental scale suggest that detailed knowledge regarding the way climate affects local populations is often necessary to successfully predict climate impact. We caution against extrapolation of results from localized climate–population studies to broad spatial scales.