PSU Deer Study

There are no guarantees when it comes to wildlife capture. This year has been particularly challenging for our capture crews due to the deep snow and winter storms that brought both ice and snow.

Because of the active research program here in Pennsylvania, we can look to the past to see how it compares to the present. This is what 10 years of deer capture have taught us.

Looking at captures by date, we see that captures quickly increase in late January and February, then only increase slightly until early April. (The captures in May–July are fawns for our study during 2015–2017.)

Part of this pattern is because of crew logistics and part of it is due to deer.

Our crews start work in early January. A couple of weeks are spent getting everyone up to speed with First Aid training, deer handling protocols, deer collar fitting, and other important stuff like how to chain up tires and report accidents. And this doesn’t include learning the lay of the land. Our crews are new to the study area as well. Moving to the field, they need to figure out where they are going, pre-bait, and move traps in position. All that takes time. 

Because of this, we usually see deer captures start to roll in early February. As the season progresses, deer get hungrier. When we hit late March, presumably there is less snow so deer are more mobile so a bump in captures is seen.

By April 1st most crews have used up their hours and trapping ends. But it would end anyway because it isn’t worth the time and effort to capture deer. 

Was 2022 different? We still have a week to go, but for the most part trapping is finished.

You can see February was pretty bleak for our crews. The hardest part of being a crew leader is keeping up morale during slow times. Going a week without catching deer gets frustrating and boring. Spending your time moving traps, getting trucks unstuck, scouting, etc with no “reward” is tough.

But captures really picked up in late March. As a result, we pretty much achieved our capture quotas for 2022 despite the difficult February.

Kudos to Levi and Amanda for a successful 2022 season!

You can see how the crews caught up in the last few weeks in the graph below. The blue line would be consistent captures throughout the season. Although they got off to a great start in February, it was pretty slow until mid-March.

However, 2022 really wasn’t that unusual. History and almost 1500 deer captures tells us the pattern experienced in 2022 was to be expected.

So even though 2022 really wasn’t that different, it really doesn’t make Frustrating February any less so. Great crews pull together, work hard, and push through and this year was no exception. Fantastic job!

-Duane Diefenbach

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