It’s that time of year! Crew leaders have been joined by their team of trappers and capture updates will soon be rolling in…hopefully.
For years our blog readers have been living vicariously through our field techs via the Deer Crew Diaries – Deer trapping, fawn capture, snow, rain, mud, mortality investigations, telemetry, vehicle repair, pellet surveys, fence repairs, vehicle breakdowns, cool field finds, and lots of awesome pictures.
Other than the endless vehicle issues, it seems like a really cool job. Right?
Remember fieldwork is still work. And while there are supercool parts of the job, it is not all roses and daisies.
Here are the things you need to know if you want to be a wildlife field tech:
1. You hold life in your hands.
When I queried our field techs about their job dislikes, being responsible for a critters well-being upon capture was their #1. I covered this in a blog post last year and it appears to be a common thread among all those who trap wildlife. Wildlife capture may seem “fun” and exciting to those on the outside, but it is mind-numbingly stressful to those who actually do it. For a fleeting moment, you are responsible for that animal’s life. You blindfold, tag, collar, record data, then let go keeping your fingers crossed that you did everything right and your brief encounter doesn’t result in its future demise. The odds are in our favor but this never diminishes the stress or guilt.
2. Weather can be your friend or your enemy
Field techs work in the field. That means in all sorts of weather. Granted heavy rain and snow can shut things down. But mud, heat, humidity, snow (already on the ground), cold, wind, drizzle, blazing sun, and any combination of such are just ongoing irritations of the job. And nothing is worse than a stretch of bad weather making a difficult job even worse.
3. You better be a problem solver.
There is no hand holding in the field. Much of the time you are working alone or with a partner. But that’s it. Things happen (equipment breaks, weather changes, tires flatten). Help might not be a phone call away and it is never just down the street. This can be tough.
4. Job security is not part of the job.
Paychecks are low and limited in number. Field seasons are short (i.e. a season) and research projects are finite in time (a few years). Long term life planning is impossible for a field tech. And don’t expect to get rich either. All wildlife biologists have spent time in the field and if asked, the majority will say time in the field is the best time. However, you can’t make a living being a field tech your whole life. As a field tech, you are always looking for your next minimum wage short term gig.
5. You never work 40 hours per week.
Working a 40 hour a week is like being on vacation for a field tech. Hours are long and if you are good at your job, you devote more than just paid time to it. Organizing schedules, checking the weather, writing updates, making repair appointments – much of this is done off the clock to ensure on the clock efficiency. Like consistency and being home for dinner every night at 1800 – not if you’re a field tech.
6. Keeping track of equipment is often more difficult than keeping track of things with actual legs.
Field work usually involves a lot of equipment. Collars, ear tags, ear tagger, drugs, needles, trigger wires, wire cutters, needle nose pliers, zip ties, face masks, nut drivers, flagging, extra collar nuts, data sheets, H-antennas, 4 elements Yagee antenna, receivers and chargers, rebar, chain, clip boards, binoculars, hack saw, rope, pencils, sharpies, quick links, shovel, duct tape, come-along, tire chains, ratchet straps, de-icer, WD-40, first aid kit, garbage bags, sharps container, GPS units, spot light, compass, AC/DV power inverter, field computer, trail cameras…
And I haven’t even covered the stuff needed for rocket nets, drops nets, and Clover traps. Add to this rotating crew members that handle all the equipment too. You need to keep track of everything, know when supplies are running low, replace when something breaks or is lost, and inventory and store everything after the season.
As you can see, there is a lot NOT to love about being a field tech. But the good usually outweighs the bad (or you forget it quickly). Because a bad day in the field is still better than a day in the office.
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