Researchers Track Deer on the Move
Most white-tailed deer are homebodies, but there are occasional oddballs. Case in point: In the DNR’s ongoing study of white-tailed deer in Minnesota’s farmland, researchers have determined that most deer ranged no more than five miles. But one deer moved 127 miles, from Redwood Falls to Oldman, S.D. Said DNR deer researcher Chris DePerno, "We really can’t explain why."
The study, launched in 2000 in the southeast and 2001 in the southwest, will be conducted for five years in each region. Biologists hope to determine the factors that influence movement, mortality, and survival of whitetails–Minnesota’s most popular game species.
The results of the study will help biologists better manage whitetails in farmland, and will affect the number of antlerless deer permits offered to hunters, said DePerno, who is overseeing the research with the help of two graduate students from South Dakota State University.
The DNR hired a professional wildlife capture company that used a helicopter to net 57 deer in southeastern Minnesota. DNR biologists then tagged and radio-collared them in a nearby field. A year later, they captured 58 deer in southwestern Minnesota. To date, 166 deer have been captured.
The research is labor intensive. For each captured deer, biologists collect a blood sample, put a numbered tag in each ear, place a radio collar around the neck, and inject the animal with antibiotics to guard against infections from any cuts that occurred during capture.
The goal is to monitor each deer’s movement, ascertain seasonal survival rates, and determine how nonhunting mortality such as deer-vehicle accidents and predation affect deer populations in both regions.
While long-term conclusions cannot be drawn until the study is completed, DePerno did offer the following insights:
• Mortality causes: Of the 166 deer captured, 48 have died. Firearms and archery hunters killed 23. Car collisions killed nine. Other causes of death included predation, wounding losses of deer shot by hunters but never retrieved, disease, and poaching.
• Seasonal movements: Southeastern deer are making seasonal home-range movements of two to three miles, while southwestern deer are moving four to five miles. The reason: different habitat and land use in the two regions.
• Low predation rates: Though coyotes prey on deer, they have killed only four of 166 deer. DePerno believes that southwestern coyotes are still recovering from a mange outbreak, which dramatically cut the population.
The study, which costs $100,000 a year, receives $80,000 annually in general fund appropriations from the Legislature. Contributions by a consortium of hunting and conservation groups make up the balance.
DePerno said more funding is needed to complete the study. To contribute, contact DePerno at the Farmland Wildlife Research Center in Madelia, 507-642-8478, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who shoots or hits and kills a radio-collared deer while driving or finds one dead is asked to contact the local DNR office, a conservation officer, or DePerno.
Tori J. McCormick, free-lance writer, Red Wing