PSU Deer Study

It was a busy week for crews. We are in the heart of trapping season. The weather has not been cooperative and crews have been fighting an uphill battle. But they are persistent, energetic, and hardworking and it is paying off.

[Comments in brackets are from Jeannine and Duane for clarification]

From the Northern Crew:

Dear deer people,

Week 3 stats:

  • 7 new captures
  • 5 bucks captured (4 adults, 1 juvenile)
  • 2 does captured (1 adult, 1 juvenile)
  • 1 VIT deployed
  • 3 recaptures (2 doe, 1 buck)

Our 3rd week of trapping produced 7 captures, bringing our season total to 19 in the northern study area. Hoping to break 30 this upcoming week!

Our trap lines seem to be slowing down & we’re getting more recaptures, so we’ve been scouting & baiting new sites where we will be moving some traps to in the next week. Big thanks to WCO M. Fair & all the DCNR folks who came out to help us check traps this week.

Tuesday was our most eventful day with 4 captures. One of which was a recaptured adult buck that we caught in the same trap exactly 2 weeks prior. We initially had him on a trail cam in that same location on January 20th as well, sporting a radio-collar he was awarded during a previous winter’s trapping season.

Speaking of recaptures, remember the doe fawn we caught last week that dropped its collar in the trap? Well, we caught her sister this week… in the same trap! This fawn was originally located (thanks to a VIT) & radio-collared as a fawn on 5/24/15, only 166 meters from where we caught her in our Clover trap on 2/9/16.

The last trap we checked on Tuesday did not disappoint. We had an adult buck which we fitted with a GPS radio-collar. We attached foam to the inside of the collar to allow for some neck growth (the foam will eventually deteriorate/rub off). Since we happen to have a trail camera on this trap, we were able to look at the footage to see what time he entered the trap. 7:27AM that same morning! Only a few hours before we arrived. We also have photos of an antlered buck sniffing around this same trap a week prior, which may be the same deer before dropping his antlers.

On Wednesday afternoon, we sat at another rocket net this week, but the deer didn’t show. A pack of coyotes came howling through at 7PM within 100 meters of us. We called it a night after that. On Friday, we recaptured an adult doe & deployed our 3rd VIT of the season.

I’m not allowed to work this Monday on account of the holiday, but my loyal crew will be out in the field to open & rebait all 28 traps for another week of deer-trapping. Let the good times roll!

Field Crew Leader
PGC Deer & Elk Section

From the Southern crew:

Hi all,

First of all, let me start off with a “Woohoo!” Thankfully, we caught deer this week. Many thanks to Bret for his help this week, and to my crew for being hard workers and getting the job done!

We set our traps mid-day on Sunday with temperatures in the 40s. We met Monday morning, and pre-determined our capture duties. The duties were separated into five different positions—deer tackler, back up tackler and baiter, immobilization person, data person, and VIT person.

I was deer tackler first, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. Some of us tried to prepare by watching YouTube videos, but really no video could prepare you for the fast paced ride you experience in the trap with a deer.

Our first 2 Clover traps were empty, but as I crested the hill near the third, I noticed movement in the trap. I ran down the hill, pulled the trap door up, and jumped into the trap with the deer.

She was at the back of the trap, jumping around. It all happened so fast.

I began by trying to get her front legs folded down underneath her, but fighting her strong back end was the hardest part. All I know is that she didn’t look as big as she actually was, and she took me for a ride a few times. Who knew that the first time I’d be in a real wrestling match, it would be with a deer?

After I got her restrained, we began processing. We attempted to insert a VIT but we determined that she was most likely a yearling (almost 2 years old) and she was not very large. After she recovered and went on her way, we were all very grateful that she was our first deer. She taught us so much already!

The last traps were empty. We picked up some traps and set 4 additional traps in Bald Eagle State Forest. Then we moved two clover traps that flooded out after the snow melt.

Tuesday, we started our morning by checking our Clover traps, but didn’t successfully capture any deer.

We captured a small, antlerless deer in Bald Eagle. On our way to the trap, the deer began jumping around, and escaped. By the time we got to the trap, the stakes were pulled out of the ground and the trap knocked on its side.

We spent the rest of the day putting out additional traps in Bald Eagle, re-staking some of our traps, and prepping to rocket net on Wednesday. With the snow squalls that were expected to come in Tuesday, we decided not to rocket net on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, we did not catch any deer in our Clover traps, but the rest of our day was eventful. The crew split up to began setting out additional traps in Rothrock. We also finished getting our site ready for rocket netting.

Everyone met at the rocket net site by 3:30, and we were sitting in our truck blind by 4:15 PM. At 5:00 PM, we heard an unusual pounding sound. After a bit of confusion, Avery (crew member) realized that we had a deer in one of the Clover traps.

Three of us jumped out of the truck blind and I signaled to the rest of the crew in the other truck. They were confused, but they jumped out of their truck and began running towards the net. We ran to the Clover trap, but by the time we got down there, all that we saw was the motion of something running through the pine trees. Another escapee!?

This time the trap was not flipped over. The door was closed. We had heard the deer jumping around in the trap, and are not exactly sure how it escaped. Maybe the door was stuck open, maybe it ran into the door and caused the door to pop up. We’ll never know, but it was an unexpected “capture.” We made our way back to our trucks.

At the time, most of us were questioning whether or not we ruined our chances for catching deer that night; however, we still sat at the rocket net. Sure enough, they showed up. First 2, then 3 and up to 5 deer visited our bait pile.

When the time was right [all deer with heads down and NOT standing in front of a rocket], we fired the net over what we thought were three deer.

When we raced down to the net, we found only one deer—a fawn! All six of us quickly processed this deer. Puzzled with the results, we took a look at our net set up and made some adjustments. The other two deer were really close to the edge of the net, so we assumed they slipped out before the net could capture them.

Thursday was an 18-hour day. In between checking Clover traps in the morning and rocket netting deer at night, we put out 4 of our traps in Rothrock and moved one of our nets.

We met at our rocket net site at 4:30 PM, and were sitting in our trucks by 5. Just before we got in our trucks, we saw at least 7 deer running up the forested mountain in front of us. They saw us! [If it wasn’t for bad luck, this crew wouldn’t have much luck at all!]

While waiting, we saw a red fox sneak up past one of our trucks towards the rocket net and our trail camera. We randomly get photos of a red fox at this site—it was probably the same one! [the lack of hair on tail is likely the result of mange]

About 30 minutes later, we spotted nine deer working their way down the side of the same mountain. Six of them began walking down towards the field that our rocket net was set up in. They walked out to the edge of the field and stood there for 3 minutes or so. I watched them through my binoculars and saw the red fox sneak past them.

The biggest antlerless deer turned around and lead them back into the forest. She knew something was up. We knew it was too good to be true!

We waited for an additional 3.5 hours. Just when I thought we should start packing up, I saw 3 deer approach the bait pile. Two fawns stood in line with the rockets, feeding on some old corn that we failed to scoop up, while the adult deer made her way to the new bait in between the rockets.

The doe was in a great position for firing, but the fawns were not. Both the fawns had made it to the newest bait and were in between our rockets, a safe position for firing the rocket net. I told Ben (crew member) to get ready to fire. When they all had their heads down at the bait pile, I called out “Fire!”

We jumped out of the truck and ran to restrain the deer. All three were captured!

We quickly realized that even 3 deer can be a handful for six people. My job quickly went from data recorder to deer restrainer. Jobs changed for everyone. Positions were filled as they were needed. You always think that you’re ready to go, but under field conditions, anything can happen.

We tagged the fawns, collected DNA samples, and sent them on their way. We also put our first VIT out! It was nearing 11 PM when I left the trapping site. But my work isn’t done when I leave the field. I still had to email the crew’s timesheets, review and scan the capture sheets, check and restock the capture supplies. Then I can shower and eat dinner.

Friday, our crew captured and GPS-collared our first buck (an 8-point) in Rothrock! As soon as we gave him the reversal and took the mask off, it didn’t take him more than a few seconds to jump up and sprint away from us.

We captured and tagged two additional deer, a doe fawn and a buck fawn. We also learned that fawns are extremely agile and stronger than they look! They were some of the hardest deer to restrain.

Afterwards, I sent the crew to set the final two Clover traps, rebait sites, and scout for new trapping areas. Bret and I went to pick out some new tires for the truck the crew and I refer to as ‘Greenie.’

We’ll see what next week has in store for us. As of right now, we are unable to trap Tuesday because of the projected snow and freezing rain. We didn’t trap this weekend because of the snowmobile activity in the state forests and one of our trucks was at the garage.


Field Crew Leader
PGC Deer & Elk Section

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