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GF&P conducts helicopter assisted white-tailed deer survival study in Lake, McCook Counties

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PIERRE — Residents of McCook and Lake Counties had a different view in the sky earlier this month. A helicopter with trained wildlife wranglers dangled in the sky to assist with capturing 50 deer for the Department of Game, Fish and Parks’ new doe and fawn survival study.

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“Over the last few weeks, we connected with landowners in the two counties for permission to do the study on their land, and signed up over 50,000 acres for the study,” said Julie DeJong, regional wildlife manager. “The support of interested landowners has been crucial in this research project.”

A company out of California, Native Range Capture Services, was hired to assist South Dakota wildlife biologists with capturing does to study their survival, as well as the survival of their spring fawns. The helicopter crew, comprised of a pilot, a net gunner and a “mugger,” were dispatched in early March over the herd to first shoot a net at deer. Then, the mugger jumped from the helicopter onto the ground to wrestle the deer, tied its legs like a cowboy does a steer and blindfolded it to calm the animal.

“After untangling the doe from the net, the mugger then attached a radio-collar and inserted a vaginal implant transmitter (VIT). The VIT will stay in the doe until she gives birth, and will assist researchers in locating fawns soon after birth. Each doe was given a shot of penicillin and was released on site,” DeJong said.

Both the collars and the VIT transmit a series of slow beeps which can be picked up by researchers using a GF&P truck equipped with a specialized radio receiver. The radio collars beep faster if a deer is stopped in one location for more than eight hours, DeJong said, usually indicating a death. The VIT transmitters are temperature sensitive and will speed up when they are expelled with the fawn.

Right now, the biologists track the collared does every seven to 10 days, driving around the two counties until all 50 does are found. They plan to spend a lot of time in the areas at the end of May when most fawns are born.

“The second part of the study involves capturing the fawns and attaching radio transmitters,” she said. “Radio-collared fawns will be monitored once every seven to 10 days for a year. Locating the fawns will involve spotlighting and walking searches.”

The public can assist in the research by contacting GF&P if they find a fawn in the wild.

“But do not disturb, pick up or detain the fawn,” she said. “This could lead to abandonment by the mother. GF&P personnel utilize specific procedures to reduce those chances of abandonment.”

Three-fourths of this project is paid for by federal matching funds that are acquired through a tax from the sale of guns and ammunition. The remaining funds are from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses in South Dakota.

“Deer are such an important resource to the people of our state; not only for hunters, but for others who just enjoy seeing deer in the wild. Knowledge of the number of does and fawns that survive from one year to the next is vital information for estimating population trends and making sound tag allocations. Hunters are encouraged to treat collared does like any other doe as we want to get a close estimate of the doe survival in McCook and Lake Counties and hunting mortality is a component of that estimate,” DeJong concluded.

For more information, please contact Julie DeJong at 605-362-2700.

— Source: South Dakota GF&P

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