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Holly Gardeners- OH DEER

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Spending the Evening with Four Men in the Back of a Pickup Truck
When I first shared this title with my husband, it met with much concern. However, what was happening was the first, ever and on-going HLR deer spotlight survey. Most of you have no doubt heard about this survey and the many rumors surrounding it including why it was being done and what its future effect might be.
Over the past year, people have been discussing the perceived over-abundance of deer here at the Ranch. The only way to determine the population of the deer is to do a survey and use this data as a benchmark for future years' studies. The Wildlife Work Group contacted the Wood County Game Warden and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist who are experts in this kind of data gathering and have frequently performed the same study on the two wildlife hunting areas that lie to the north and south of the west side of the Ranch and the new wildlife area that Ozarka has acquired. They agreed to come to the Ranch to perform the study and train the Wildlife Work Group members in gathering the data. That is how I ended up on that moon-lit night with the guys in the truck.
We met at 8:45 p.m. with a map of Holly Lake Ranch and Trevor Tanner, TxPWD Wildlife Biologist, to map out a representative area of the Ranch. Having already driven much of the Ranch, he assisted us in the best route that required the least amount of backtracking. The route included different types of habitat and the same route will be used in all future year studies. Included in the sample area were the east and west sides as well as Section 6.
The first purpose of a deer spotlight survey is to get a sampling in a given land area of the density of deer found there. Area is expressed as the number of visible acres which is determined by taking visibility readings at EVERY 1/10th of a mile. The data collected is expressed as number of acres per deer. Two more counts will be taken within the next 1-2 months on the same route for reliable information on deer density. This will give us a figure for future reference. Here's how it worked: one Wildlife Group member drove the TxPWD truck (with hazard lights on and signs on the side of the truck) at 5 miles per hour stopping every 1/10th of mile to take a visibility reading (in a straight line perpendicular to the truck). This reading was taken by Trevor and another of the Work Group as they sat on big swivel chairs attached to the pick-up bed and using hand held high-beam lights. I cannot figure out how they came up with how many yards they could see into the woods and meadow area but I am sure it had something to do with playing golf. All of us used our binoculars to identify all deer and the light guys had to keep the lights moving as the truck moved, checking both ahead of and behind the vehicle. We were told to only shine our lights on our side of the truck in order to prevent blinding the other observers. Duh! One person (yours truly) recorded this data in yardage. Why obtain estimates of deer density, you ask? Estimates of deer density can help determine whether our deer herd is at, above or below the carrying capacity of the habitat. Carrying capacity is the density of healthy and productive deer the land can support without causing habitat damage.
Of course, we stopped to count and sex the deer and this data was recorded by a 4th member of the Work Group. Deer are usually first spotted by their reflective eyes. Deer eye reflection is greenish-white. We used binoculars aided by the lights which were kept moving as the truck moved, checking both ahead of and behind the vehicle. We stopped only to identify all deer or determine the number of deer in a group. Unless all deer observed in a group could be identified by sex and age-class, ALL these deer were recorded as unidentified. Recording only bucks from a group will bias data and reflect a better buck to doe ratio than may be present. The deer were recorded as bucks, does, fawns, or unidentified.
We saw other things beside deer. . . we were told not to shine our lights directly into houses so - no - we did not see you in your jammies. Observed were: possums, raccoons, a red fox, 4' alligator, several feline (domestic and feral), bats and a few cement deer, pigs and donkeys. We also witnessed a newborn fawn possibly less than a day old.
At 2:00 a.m. we had to call it a "day." After about 5 hours the data is not good as the deer begin to get up at dawn, move and forage. We have a portion of the east side and Section 6 remaining so watch for bulletins for when we will be out again. And, remember this study will be performed two more times within the next couple of months or so. There were no causalities and luckily we did not have to take potty breaks. And, it was one of those wonderful, cool and beautifully night the Ranch is known for.
I hear there is some concern about why this study is being performed. This study is to COLLECT data. The only way to learn about wildlife is to study them so as to have a basis for comparison. Density gives us an idea if the deer herd is increasing or declining, at which point either way, alarms should sound. Deer reproduce quickly. A doe matures at 2 or 3 years, and then typically gives birth to twins or triplets each year for 10 or more years, so you don't have to be a student of biology to predict what will happen. Unchecked populations do not increase in a linear fashion, but exponentially- that is they don't increase the same amount each year, but rather grow by ever-greater amounts as the babies have babies, kinda like compound interest. A deer herd with plenty to eat and not hunted by humans or other predators will double in size every three years! (Count the deer in your backyard and you do the math.) Populations will continue to grow until something limits their growth. If populations begin to decline a reason needs to be found, as well. Is decline due to illness, predation, illegal hunting or starvation from habitat destruction? These last reasons need to be determined and handled quickly.
So, there you have it. When the study is complete, the information will be disseminated to all and all calculations will be shown. Now, off to get my beauty sleep. . . . I hope I don't dream about deer. Ann Reynolds, Certified Master Naturalist.


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