Winter is the season for deer captures. These captures are vital for obtaining health, demographic, and spatial data of mule deer within Utah.
An expert team experienced with animal captures goes out on the landscape via helicopter. They shoot net guns at the deer, tie their legs together, and put a mask over their eyes. The leg ties help keep them safe by preventing them from escaping and hurting themselves or others. The face mask helps keep them calm. The helicopter team then wraps them in a basket attached to the helicopter, flies them to the drop point, and gently lowers them to the ground.
After the deer are deposited and the helicopter is safely out of the way, the ground team moves in. The goal is to work quickly, efficiently, and quietly in order to make the experience the least stressful on the deer. First, they need to be untied from the helicopter basket and moved on to a pallet so it’s easier to carry them. After that, a variety of measurements and samples are taken, such as weight, age, blood, hair, if the doe has been lactating, and so on. Finally, a GPS collar is fitted on their neck
Once all the samples are taken and everything has been recorded, it’s time to release the deer. A team carries the pallet away from the working area. Two or three people hold the deer down and untie their leg ties and face mask. When the legs are free, the team remove the face mask and quickly step away from the deer to let them escape.
This was an incredible experience for us at the Space-Use Ecology lab. Our research relies entirely on the success of these captures, and we are all very grateful for all the work the people at the UDWR do.