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How Researchers, Not Just Hunters, Are Tracking Deer This Season

Not only will hunters be tracking deer in Pennsylvania starting today, so too will researchers.

As part of the Deer Forest Study, conducted by the Game Commission with the help of Penn State researchers, 30 deer are wearing GPS radio collars that are controlled using text messages and instantly record the location of the deer.

Researchers can then learn more deer movements and behavior especially during hunting season.

“There’s always the question of the deer have gone nocturnal, they’re only moving at night,” said Christopher Rosenberry, supervisor of the Game Commission’s deer and elk section. “So those are some of the things we want to look at as well just to get a better understanding as to how these deer are reacting to hunting pressure on these study areas where there will be some intensive monitoring.”

Rosenberry said they’ve been using radio collars for about a decade, but in the past after capturing the deer, usually in nets, and putting collars on them, they would have to remotely trigger a release switch to the collar so it would drop. Researchers would then use GPS to find the collars, collect them in the forest, and then only be able to download the information.

He said now the researchers will send a “text” to the deer’s collar to determine how frequently to record information, and the deer — or rather its collar — will text back that location data. 

“It’s the same as the GPS unit in your car except it records that location,” Rosenberry said. “For example, throughout the summer and last spring, it (the frequency) was every five hours. We bumped it up in the fall to every three hours, and we’ll go every 20 minutes during the gun season.”

He said they hope to determine what percentage of deer remains in their study area throughout the year and during hunting season. 

“In terms of monitoring the deer population and its effects on forest vegetation and the relationship between deer abundance and what we’re observing in terms of impacts on the forest; then looking also at harvest rates.”

According to Rosenberry, hunters play a key part of this research.  He said “study areas” are all posted and they are urging people to register that they are hunting those locations.  

“That’s critically important because the project is going to look at  hunting effort and how changes in the deer population as well as the habitat affect hunters themselves,” Rosenberry said.

The data collected will also tell game officials how far deer roam. Rosenberry said on average, males usually move three to six miles and females 10 to 12 miles from where they are born and where they settle. The longest “dispersal distance” recorded for a male has been 42 miles. 

“But we did have one female because of some GPS collars we had a few years ago, where she was born and where she ended up was only 15 miles apart, but because of the GPS collar we were able to track her movements the whole time she was traveling, and that deer covered at least 130 miles,” he said.

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