Wisconsin wildlife researchers are moving into the third winter season of a five-year study into the causes of death in white-tailed deer, and they are again seeking volunteers to assist with this groundbreaking study.

A wealth of data have already been collected thanks to the help of hundreds of volunteers who have helped with the capture and radio-collaring of adult deer during December and January, according to Mike Watt, the Department of Natural Resources research scientist who coordinates the project.

Volunteers are needed again and can sign up online by searching for “deer research” and clicking on the link for “wildlife and forestry research” and then selecting the “get involved” tab. or by contacting Mike Watt at 608-221-6376 or by email michael.watt@wisconsin.gov.

“For a hunter or for anyone interested in whitetail deer this is a fantastic opportunity to work alongside wildlife biologists and research scientists,” Watt said. “Volunteers are asked to give at a minimum a full day in the field checking traps, taking blood and parasite samples, performing ultrasound exams to see if the does are pregnant, installing radio collars and ear tags and releasing the animals. This is hands-on work with live animals and for most, is a once in a lifetime experience.”

There are two study areas, one in northwest Wisconsin in the vicinity of Winter and one in east central Wisconsin in the vicinity of Shiocton. They were chosen for the northern forest and farmland habitat types they represent. For more information on early research findings search the DNR website for “Wisconsin deer research news [PDF].”

Volunteers have helped researchers capture adult deer during the past two winter capture seasons. A variety of capture methods are used including drop nets, box traps and net traps. The radio collars alert researchers that the deer wearing the collar has died. Researchers then locate the dead animal and attempt to determine the cause of death.

“Determining causes of death in deer is vital to the accuracy of our deer population estimates,” Watt said “In addition to deer harvested by hunters we have a suite of predators in Wisconsin, including black bears, bobcats, coyotes, and gray wolves, that may have some impact on deer. What we are less certain of are the relative roles that each of these predators plays in deer survival.

“Hunters are encouraged to treat these deer like any other deer in the woods, ignoring a collar or ear tag and shooting if they would normally shoot it or pass on it that is something they would normally do based on their personal hunting practices.

“The data gathered though this project will be used in fine tuning deer survival and recruitment estimates in a variety of habitats and will also better define the roles played by hunters, predators, environment and habitat in the causes of death among deer in Wisconsin,” he said. “Having a better understanding of these factors will help biologists in determining harvest recommendations and ultimately season structures.”

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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