Spare gutpile? Grab a trail cam and contribute to U of M research

Ph.D. candidate Ellen Candler provided some trail cam images over gutpiles from earlier this fall (above, below).

Ph.D. candidate Ellen Candler needs a few good hunters and their white-tailed deer gutpiles this fall.

A graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Candler is asking successful deer hunters this fall to set up trail cameras over the whitetail offal they leave afield. The photos of scavengers over those gutpiles will provide data for Candler’s research on “hunter provided subsidies” of food for other wild critters like bears, wolves, and eagles.

Originally from Idaho, Candler completed her undergrad at Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., and is in her second year at the U’s fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology department on the Twin Cities campus. She and her advisor, professor Joseph Bump, are working with the university’s Minnesota Master Naturalist program to encourage participation among hunters in this study. What’s its point?

The past century aside, a couple hundred thousand piles of whitetail offal hitting the ground in mid-November is unusual for the region, Candler said. Historically, deer and other big game probably didn’t die in large numbers during mid-to late autumn. They’re in peak condition after a summer and autumn of ample food, and before the difficult days of winter, so November traditionally has been a time with low natural mortality. The research intends to determine how “hunter derived food sources” influence the scavenger community and particularly carnivores. In addition to the entrails after field-dressing, those sources include hunter bait piles.

“We’re interested in how gutpiles are influencing wildlife,” Candler told me Friday as she was leaving for a special deer hunt at a state park. “We want to understand who benefits from this resource. Take bears, for example: Does this food source help them better prepare for hibernation?”

Minnesota is a great state for the study because several major biomes intersect, including the tallgrass prairie, boreal forest, deciduous forest of the eastern portion of the state, and the so-called aspen parklands in the northwest. Candler hopes to receive photos from across the state, then compare scavengers from the different areas. Simple logic dictates that she’ll see more birds in the prairie region, more woodland carnivores in the north, and “generalist” species closer to the metro, like coyotes and raccoons. But there could be some surprises, too. Some archers already have submitted images to the study this fall, and Candler has photos of black bears, plus lots of eagles and ravens, dining on the remains of early season bowkills.

She’s asking hunters to leave the trail cameras out for an entire month, even though most gutpiles don’t last that long. Critters will continue to visit an area in the days and weeks after the remains disappear, and the researchers want that information, too. Candler also was clear that this is not a study on the effect of lead bullets. She didn’t rule out that aspect of the research in the future, but at this time, that’s not a component, and she won’t be asking participants what type of bullets they used.

Any deer hunters can participate – archery, firearms, or muzzleloader – and they should plan to provide the date of the kill, location, and any photos that their trail cameras snap for a month. The study will not disclose locations of the kill, Candler stressed.

For more information or to participate in the study, click here, or contact Ellen Candler at or call (208) 680-6023. We’ll check in with the Ph.D. student next year, and share results with readers as they become available.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Rob Drieslein

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