Joint Deer-Forest blog and study are valuable for hunters

The deer hunting seasons are over for another year. The late archery, flintlock and extended antlerless firearms seasons ended on Jan. 23. However, for a dedicated group of deer-forest researchers, another season – deer trapping season – began after the other seasons ended. Trapping teams are currently working in study areas in the Susquehannock, Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests. 

Three years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry partnered with Penn State University and Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to learn more about deer and the their relationship to healthy forests. Over 200 deer have been trapped as a part of the study – more are being added to that total this winter.

The goals and objectives for this study address the information needs and research questions of each collaborator. In a nutshell, the research will test the effectiveness of the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) to increase the antlerless harvest and the ability of the commission's and the department's forest evaluation tools to accurately detect changes in vegetation in response to deer abundance. Yet another part of the study will measure the changes in hunter behavior and attitudes based on changes in deer abundance. So far, 4,900 hunters have participated in the study.  

Some vocal hunters complain about seeing no deer on state land or that the public land is overrun with hunters. Current research does not bear out those widely shared negative opinions.

"In our study areas – even with DMAP – there are deer harvest rates of only 10 to 20 percent," Cooperative Unit leader Duane Diefenbach noted. "These are some of the lowest rates ever recorded during deer research in Pennsylvania. So far, only 16 percent of the collared adult bucks (at least 2.5 years old) have been harvested. I would have expected that to be at least 40 to 60 percent.

"Based on our surveys, 17 percent of the hunters stated that they saw too many hunters while hunting on state forest land, 33 percent indicated that there were too few hunters, and half of the hunters said that the number of hunters that they saw while hunting was about right," Diefenbach added.

The multi-faceted research project has a number of goals – one according to Diefenbach, looks at a question asked by many hunters.

"Do we really need fewer deer for healthy forest regeneration, or other factors having a more important effect on our forests?" he asked.

Another aspect that makes this study unique is the public's ability to follow the research as it happens – courtesy of the Deer-Forest Blog, which can be accessed at www.ecosystems.psu.edu/research/projects/deer/news. Both Diefenbach and Game Commission deer biologist Jeannine Fleegle have provided a significant number of postings. The blog has had over 100 entries – 18 within the past two months.

"The stories on this blog are read by almost 60,000 people every month,"  Fleegle said. "I’m sure other blogs have 10 or maybe 100 times more readership, but even this level of success is something that surprised all of us. We weren’t sure one person would read it, never mind 60,000. 

"The most important part of this study is that it will help us make better deer management recommendations, but so far the public is enjoying the 'gee-whiz stuff' that is reported in the blog,” Fleegle added. 

The gee-whiz stuff? The blog reports on the research, but also includes related and unrelated discoveries about white-tailed deer. According to Fleegle, an Oct. 8, 2015, Diefenbach post about a buck returning to die at a location that he had visited only once before has been the blog's most viewed post.

Another interesting Dec. 21, 2015, post tells of two fawns being captured four days and over a quarter of a mile apart. Later DNA analysis proved that they are twins. A third deals with does that have lived in the study area long past their normal life expectancies.

On Jan. 20, the collar from monitored buck number 12786 sent a mortality signal. The heavily-antlered nine-point buck was found dead by the study team – the cause of death due to antler punctures from another buck.

Several other posts have revealed the dramatic change in behavior that bucks show when the rut begins in mid-October and also how they elude hunters during rifle season. This is all valuable information for hunters and anyone interested in deer. 

Followers of the blog know, for example, that 13 deer have been trapped so far this winter – all by the northern trapping crew. Four of those were repeat captures – deer already part of the study.       

The importance of the study and the blog to hunters can be summed up by Jerry Paulukonis, a Luzerene County hunter:  

"I must say. You all do a fantastic job with the studies and helping to educate people on the life of the deer. I consider myself a very educated hunter and even I have learned a ton from your blogs.” 

 

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Hunting News, PenBlogs, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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