Collared-deer data instructive
- By Tom Venesky tvenesky@...
It takes an extraordinary effort for a radio-collared deer to elude Jim
click image to enlarge
This young buck was photographed by a trail camera earlier this month in the
Loyalville area. In February it was trapped by the Pennsylvania Game Commission
in Montrose and fitted with a radio-collar as part of a study. It traveled
approximately 40 miles since then to reach Luzerne County.
N. Brin/for the times leader
Radio collars provide valuable information on deer
The radio collars that the PGC’s Jim Stickles uses not only give him the
location of a particular deer, but it tells him if the animal is dead or alive.
The animal’s movement triggers a mechanism inside the collar to emit a beep per
second. If the deer stops moving for six to eight hours, the mechanism will beep
twice every second, indicating the animal has died or the collar was removed.
Buck’s 40-mile journey a big benefit to gene pool
PGC biologist Kevin Wenner said the 40-mile journey of a young buck from
Montrose to Loyalville this year is not only impressive, but a huge benefit to
the gene pool as well. Such drastic movements result in a mix of the genetics in
a particular area, he said.
It also explains why twin fawns usually have separate fathers, according to
“It’s not like a herd of beef cows with a bull that are fenced in where you
control it,” Wenner said. “In a wild setting, you might see a large buck with
some doe and assume he’s doing all the breeding in the area, but that’s far from
“That buck is likely to move on during the rut and another buck can move in and
breed her when she’s in heat again, as evident by twin fawns not having the same
As the field crew leader for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Deer and Elk
Section in Wildlife Management Unit 3C, Stickles is in charge of monitoring the
movements of almost 300 deer that were trapped and fitted with radio collars
during the last two years.
If a particular animal turns up missing from its original capture site, Stickles
will intensely monitor a 10-mile radius around the area and is usually able to
locate the deer. If that doesn’t work, he takes to the sky and uses a plane and
aerial telemetry to find it.
But for most of the summer and fall, one deer – a young buck – has been able to
elude Stickles and his high-tech devices.
The deer was originally trapped and collared in February in Montrose,
Susquehanna County. In the early summer it left the area and was documented
again in Springville, in the southern part of the county.
By the end of October, however, Stickles wasn’t able to find the young buck.
On Dec. 1, a Loyalville resident contacted the PGC about a deer photographed on
a trail camera that had a collar. PGC biologist Kevin Wenner looked at the
pictures and recognized the collar as those being used by the agency as part of
its four-year study designed to measure the impacts of a special five-day
antlered/seven-day concurrent season established in 2008.
Wenner called Stickles, who came to the area and immediately located and
identified the deer as the missing buck.
That it turned up in Loyalville after being collared in Montrose earlier in the
year meant the buck traveled approximately 40 miles.
“That’s quite a distance for a deer to travel,” Stickles said. “It’s not the
first 40-mile dispersal, but it’s not common either.”
During the first two years of the study only one other deer – a doe – traveled
farther with a 42-mile jaunt in the north-central part of the state.
The reason why the Montrose buck traveled so far isn’t known, but Stickles
suspects it was pushed out of the area by older bucks during the onset of the
Travel patterns are only one of the many interesting finds yielded by the study,
which will provide data on the impact the split season has on the deer harvest
as well as population dynamics.
The study began in the winter of 2008 when Stickles began trapping and collaring
deer. Since then, two hunting seasons have already yielded some interesting data
for WMU 3C, which includes parts of Bradford, Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Wayne and
In 2009, out of 120 radio-collared deer, 18 of the 79 does perished by hunters,
vehicle collisions or other means.
This past hunting season, with 270 deer collared, only 14 of the 170 does were
taken by hunters.
“That throws up a red flag,” Stickles said.
A concrete explanation likely won’t occur until the study is complete and a
trend can be established, but Stickles has a guess.
Out of the radio-collared deer in WMU 3C, more bucks (42) were harvested this
season than does. The year before, Stickles said, the weather was poor for the
opening day and first Saturday of the rifle deer season, so perhaps more bucks
survived and made it through to this year.
“Maybe more hunters this season harvested a buck and then stopped hunting, which
led to fewer does being taken,” Stickles said. “That’s a possibility, but we
won’t be sure until we see a trend.”
Stickles said three consecutive years of data are needed before a trend can be
established, and that will happen after the 2011 hunting season.
Another new occurrence this year in WMU 3C is the increase in roadkills.
Stickles attributed the hike to the rise in truck traffic in the area generated
by gas drilling activity.
Predation, he said, hasn’t been an issue, partly because all of the deer he
traps and collars are adults. Predation is more common with fawns, Stickles
With 270 deer collared, Stickles will look to do more this winter. After the
late flintlock season concludes Jan. 15, Stickles will begin trapping and
collaring deer in WMU 3C until early August.
“I’m hoping to get 200, but it’s very dependent on the weather,” he said. “If we
have some cold temperatures and six inches of snow on the ground, those would be
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