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Volunteers needed for deer research effort
Photo for the Times: Lee Fahrney Chris Jacques, research scientist, left, Rob Bohman, Conservation Congress vice-chair, center, and Tony Janecek, Congress delegate, met recently with DNR officials and Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates to explain the purpose and methodology of the White-tailed Deer Research Project at Deerfest in Oshkosh.
OSHKOSH - "Volunteers will be critical," said Chris Jacques, Department of Natural Resources deer research scientist who will supervise the White-tailed Deer Research Project now in its initial stages of implementation.

"The field effort alone is too big," he said. "We'll be capturing perhaps thousands of deer."

Jacques and other DNR staff and Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates were explaining the program and signing up volunteers at Deerfest held last weekend at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds in Oshkosh.

"We signed up about 15 people on Saturday alone," said Tony Janecek, Conservation Congress delegate. "We'll need all we can get," he added.

At $2 million, this will be one of the greatest investments ever made in deer research efforts in Wisconsin, according to a DNR weekly news article. Funding for the study comes via the Federal Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Roberts). Other partners in the project include the UW-Madison, Whitetails Unlimited and UW-Stevens Point.

The study seeks to answer two specific questions:

First, what is the survival rate of bucks and what portion of bucks are harvested by hunters? The goal is to make herd estimates more accurate, thus responding to complaints that have plagued game managers in recent years. The study will look at such factors as hunting, predation, vehicle collisions and harsh weather to determine what percentage of deaths can be attributed to each cause.

Second, what impacts do predators have on deer populations? This part of the study will focus on the role of predation, habitat and weather conditions in the deaths of fawns.

The research effort will occur in two areas, one in the Northern Forest and the other referred to as the Eastern Farmland area. The northernmost area includes Deer Management units 13, 14, 18, 19 and 20 while the eastern locale includes units 47, 62B, 63A and 65B centered on Shawano County.

The first question relates to the "sex-age-kill" model which continues to draw fire as an inadequate method of estimating deer populations. Sex-age-kill has been the standard since the 1960s.

Now, officials want to obtain more rigorous direct estimates of the buck recovery rate. Radio telemetry monitoring will be the primary method used to monitor the bucks over a five-year period, beginning during the winter of 2010-11.

Initially, approximately 100 male deer will be captured and an ear tag applied. Of these, 30 will be fitted with radio collars. Trained volunteers will assist in the capture of the deer using various techniques including box traps, dart guns and helicopter net-gunning. Additional deer will be captured and tagged in subsequent years through 2014.

The second part of the study will involve the capture of pregnant white-tailed deer annually using similar techniques. Deer will be immobilized with an intramuscular injection allowing researchers and volunteers to verify pregnancy using ultrasound.

Each doe will be weighed and all pregnant females will receive a collar-mounted VHF radio transmitter, ear tags, and a vaginal implant transmitter with temperature sensitive switch designed to expel at the birth of the fawn.

Workers will attempt to locate 30 newborn fawns, beginning in May, 2011. Daily monitoring of the implanted transmitters will allow researchers to take note of a change in pulse rate and proceed quickly to the area at the birth of the fawn.

By approaching the area quickly and noisily, researchers hope the instinctive "drop" response to danger will help in locating the animals. Fawns that flee will be chased down on foot and captured with long-handled fishnets. State DNR officials note that previous experience with these methods does not result in abandonment or physical harm to the animals.

Both fawns and adult females will be monitored daily for 30 days post-capture and twice weekly thereafter using standard hand-held or aerial tracking techniques. The deer will be monitored for at least one year to estimate annual survival rates. DNR veterinarians will examine carcasses whose cause of mortality can not be determined in the field.

Hunters are advised to treat any collared deer as just another deer in the woods and shoot it if that fits their need.

"They should hunt as they usually do, but report to the DNR any deer shot that might have an ear tag or radio collar," Jacques said.

Many volunteers will be needed to build deer traps, participate in deer capture, placing radio collars on captured deer, and monitoring survival status and seasonal movements of collared deer.

Anyone wishing to volunteer should contact Chris Jacques at (608) 221-6358 or via e-mail at To register for updates on the project, go to the DNR website at and click on "DNR updates" under the features column, then check White-tailed Deer Research to receive the updates.

- Lee Fahrney is the Times Outdoors Writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at