Mule Deer Collared Near Kaycee
North Gillette Game Warden Kristen DaVanon, right, and Sheridan Region Wildlife Coordinator Dan Thiele, left, along with members of the University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources prepare to take measurements, collect samples and fit a doe mule deer with a GPS collar. All Photos courtesy of WGFD.
As part of the statewide Mule Deer Initiative, 70 adult doe mule deer were captured and collared near Kaycee for research purposes.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Bureau of Land Management collaborated on the project.
The Mule Deer Initiative was created to address declines in mule deer populations in Wyoming. In 2014, the Upper Powder River mule deer herd, occupying Hunt Areas 30, 32, 33, 163, and 169 was identified as a herd of interest in the Sheridan Region.
Wildlife managers decided upon a three-year monitoring project to evaluate the condition of the herd, identify factors influencing animal survival, learn about seasonal movements and habitat preferences, and study the dynamics of chronic wasting disease on the herd.
The Upper Powder River mule deer herd has been below the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s population objective of 18,000 since the early 2000s. The 2017 postseason population was estimated at approximately 11,000 deer.
Management actions implemented to address the stagnant population include the near elimination of doe harvest, conservative general license deer seasons, liberalized mountain lion, black bear, white-tailed deer and elk seasons, and the initiation of habitat improvement projects.
The 70 deer were captured on Dec. 13 and 14 at several locations between Buffalo and Kaycee. A professional wildlife capture crew caught the deer via a helicopter using net guns to ensnare the animals and secure them for transport. Once secured, the animals were mildly sedated and flown, one or two at a time, to a designated staging location where waiting personnel unloaded them.
Each deer was fitted with a GPS neck collar that will track its movements for the next three years. Measurements taken included weight, length, and girth. Blood samples were collected for genetic analysis, fecal samples were collected to test for parasites, and a small sample of rectal tissue was collected to test for chronic wasting disease. Additionally, an ultrasound was performed to measure subcutaneous body fat.
“Surprisingly, the study produced results almost immediately when a number of deer were found with no rump fat,” said Sheridan Region Wildlife Coordinator Dan Thiele in a press release. “This was unexpected given reasonable precipitation this year. The study may help identify limitations in habitat which lead to poor body condition that can affect winter survival, fawn production, and birth weights.”
The collars transmit on a VHF radio frequency to allow tracking with a receiver, but they also collect and store a GPS location every two hours and will continue to do so throughout the three year study.
Also, real-time GPS location data is collected every six hours and transmitted via satellite every 36 hours.
“I can then view those locations on my computer,” said Buffalo Wildlife Biologist Cheyenne Stewart in the release. “During the project, we’ll get broad-scale movement data, but at the end of the study we will get the two-hour locations. When we download the two-hour location points we will be able to analyze finer scale movement and habitat use patterns, and maybe even identify fawning locations.”
Stewart said they hope to recapture these deer annually at the same time of year for the duration of the study, equaling four captures total over three years.
“The reason we want to recapture every year is to repeat the ultrasound and body condition measurements. That way we can learn how deer movement, habitat selection, and weather influence body condition of deer coming off summer range.”
Thiele also thanked participating landowners in the release.
“The success of this project relied heavily on the participation of local landowners willing to allow us to capture deer on their property, as well as set up staging locations with a large number of trucks, trailers, equipment, and personnel,” he said. “We truly appreciate each of them allowing us access to their property.”
Regular updates on the project will be provided to the public over the next three years and a detailed update will also be featured at the annual Buffalo and Kaycee season setting meetings this coming spring.