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Deer Studies


Hunting- Biologists at the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University recently launched a three-year field study to measure the survival and response to hunting activity of female white-tailed deer in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2G and 4B.

This study is the latest in a series of studies on the Commonwealth's white-tailed deer that are being used to guide and refine deer-management decisions made by the Game Commission. Other studies include: a fawn survival study (2000-2001); a buck survival and movement study (2001-2005); a rut timing and conception study (2000-present); an antler measurement study (2000-2001); an evaluation of deer harvest estimates and reporting rates (2003-2004); and chronic wasting disease surveillance (1998-present).

Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, Game Commission biologist, said that the research is designed to answer the following questions: What percentage of female deer survive from one hunting season to the next; what factors influence survival of female deer; what is hunter density on public and private lands; how do female deer respond to hunter movements; and what factors affect a female deer's vulnerability to harvest.

"Monitoring survival rates and harvest vulnerability of female white-tailed deer are two important components of the deer management program," said Rosenberry, who designed the research project. "However, limited field-based information is available on the survival rates of female white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania.

"Female survival rates can affect a deer herd in a variety of ways, including sex and age ratios, productivity and recruitment into the fall population. Establishing field-based survival rates of female deer will strengthen the Game Commission's ability to evaluate changes in deer populations."

Dr. Duane Diefenbach, with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey at Penn State University, noted that shedding light on how deer respond to hunting pressure should provide insight into how we can improve deer management strategies.

"Hunting pressure varies based on land ownership, road networks and topography," Diefenbach said. "The effect of public versus private land hunting is a topic of interest among hunters and Game Commission staff. This research will provide insight into hunter densities and distribution on public lands and surrounding private lands and the response of female deer to hunting pressure."

Bret Wallingford, Game Commission biologist, noted that the research will occur in WMU 2G in the northern forests commonly referred to as "The Big Woods" area; and in WMU 4B in the ridge and valley region of the state's heartland. Initially, study activities will be focused in and around state forests. In subsequent years, study activities will expand outward from state forests to encompass a variety of public and private lands and habitats.

"In winter and early spring, deer will be captured by research crews using drop nets, rocket nets and clover traps - similar to those used for the buck survival and movement study," said Wallingford, who will coordinate field activities for the research project. "Female deer will be collared with radio tracking devices that will allow monitoring of movements and survival of individual animals."

During hunting seasons, aerial surveys will be flown to determine density and distribution of hunters. Deer response to hunting pressure will be monitored with radio collars.

"We will be tracking deer to map their home range," Diefenbach said. "Then during the hunting season we plan to use aerial surveys to estimate hunter density and map the distribution of hunters to see how hunter density is related to deer home ranges.

"Also, some does will be fitted with GPS collars that will locate a deer every hour during the hunting season so that we can observe deer movements relative to the opening day of rifle season. This should be of great interest to hunters and deer managers. We know deer don't leave their home range just because of hunting pressure, but we are interested to see what parts of their home range they do use when hunting pressure is greatest."

"Hunters should treat deer with collars and ear tags as any other deer," Wallingford stressed. "If a marked deer is legal for harvest, then it may be harvested. Indeed, hunters should not pass on marked deer as hunting mortality is a part of this study.

"Hunters who harvest a marked deer are asked to call the number on the collar or ear tag, so information about the harvested deer can be collected."

Wallingford and Diefenbach noted that field work of the doe study is underway, and capture crews in WMUs 2G and 4B recently began trapping deer. The crews are planning to collar 70 does per study area per year.

Source: PA Game Commision


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