December 09, 2021
Every February, Bowhunter Magazine attends the Southeast Deer Study Group (SEDSG) meeting. This year, it was hosted virtually by the National Deer Association (NDA). Yes, a Zoom meeting where we all attended from our own home. I missed seeing old friends, but the pandemic made getting together for the 44th annual meeting impossible.
While most such meetings were not held, the SEDSG meeting was, and 43 papers were presented. No, it was not the same, but we still got the latest information and research being done on deer. There were three papers on COVID, six on chronic wasting disease (CWD), three on trail cameras, two on antler shedding (casting), two on drones, and many on fawn survival, deer movement, hunter movement, and impacts of hunters on deer. Given the situation, the National Deer Association did a fantastic job.
Rather than give a lot of details on each paper, I want to give shorter versions on a number of papers I think you will find interesting.
Kip Adams and Matt Ross discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on deer processing. You may recall that in 2020, many large meat packers had COVID sweep through their employees, forcing a shutdown. This caused ranchers to go to small butcheries to get their animals done. It’s these smaller butcher shops that do deer every fall, but in many Midwestern states, butchers were as much as six months behind.
Dr. Michael Palmer with the National Animal Disease Center wanted to find out if deer were susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The reasons for the study were to help elucidate the potential origin of the virus, and also to determine potential reservoirs or intermediate hosts. He worked on captive deer and found that upon intranasal inoculation, whitetails became infected and shed infectious SARS-CoV-2 in nasal secretions and feces for five to seven days. No active virus was found in infected deer 21 days later. Note, these deer never showed visible signs of infections. They also found that indirect contact animals were infected and shed infectious virus.
Jesse Exum presented a paper estimating deer numbers using drones. Drones were fitted with dual thermal-optical video cameras and flown at five sites, each with different deer densities. Thermal estimates from five repeated surveys at one site were comparable to helicopter survey estimates. No question this emerging technology will be used more to estimate deer numbers in the future, and it’s also less expensive than helicopter surveys.
Researchers from Georgia put out one passive-IR camera for every 60 acres on five wildlife management areas from various regions in Georgia, between October 2019 and January 2020. They collected 21,352 images of deer, and concluded that passive cameras can evaluate deer activity patterns and can be used to identify the timing of the rut. They also compared their results to deer-vehicle collision data that had been used to determine the period of peak breeding behavior. In general, data from the two studies were in agreement.
There was one really neat article that you shed hunters will find interesting. Nebraska researchers collected shed antlers in the Platte River Valley from 2009 to 2020. They genetically analyzed each shed and found that the distance between matched sets of antlers from bucks 2.5 years old or older was twice as far apart as matched antler sets of 1.5-year-old bucks. This simply means that if you find one small antler, the chances are that the other antler from that buck is probably close by. But if you find a large antler, you may have to search further away to find the matching antler. By the way, matched sets of 1.5-year-old buck sheds were usually less than five yards apart. Also of interest was the fact that cast antlers from the same buck 2.5 years of age and older were found, on average, 0.3 miles apart (517 yards) in subsequent years. That suggests that along rivers in Nebraska, older bucks continue to winter in the same areas.
Tess Gingery of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit reviewed data from 20 studies with reported fawn survival over three to six months. They found that studies that manipulated predator densities found little or no effect on fawn survival and recruitment. Interesting, since hunters are so keyed to the idea of shooting coyotes to help fawn survival. Ms. Gingery suggested factors that influence physiological condition of fawns may better explain why fawns exposed to no predators have mortality risks similar to those exposed to three or more predator species. This doesn’t mean predation is unimportant, but rather points out that reduction of predator numbers does not guarantee increased fawn survival because there are so many other variables that can affect fawns.
This idea was confirmed by Mike Muthersbaught from Clemson University, who found that causes of fawn mortality appeared to vary considerably from year to year because of so many variables.
Craig Harper and grad students from the University of Tennessee presented more data to back up his earlier work that showed regular mowing does not improve perennial forage plots. Mowing does not increase crude protein. This study also showed that mowing of white clover, red clover, and alfalfa plots reduced forage production by 25 percent, while deer consumed 608 lbs./acre more forage in unmowed plots.
Lindsey Davis of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable presented a great paper full of ideas in the Plenary Session. For example, 81 percent of Americans spent time in the outdoors during this pandemic, and 32 percent did so for the first time in their life. There were 7.9 million new campers, 10 million new anglers, and 8.1 million new hikers. All this can lead to new hunters.
Bryan Burhans with the Pennsylvania Game Commission noted that two years of hunting license sales increases in 2019 and 2020 correlated with unemployment increases. Most first-time hunting license buyers were in the 12–34 age group in the last four years. Interesting, and that’s the age group where we need more hunters. Additionally, unemployed bowhunters in 2020 (pandemic year) caused archery license sales to increase nine percent.
Tennessee reported on their new approach to recruit hunters and anglers. Since March of 2020 (when the pandemic started), they had 209,000 new customers in Tennessee. That was the first license increase in the past five years. That’s huge. New hunters increased by 47,000, while 67,000 were reactivated hunters. Here is how they did it. During that time, the state invested $438,000 in marketing. One idea that worked was offering hunters a hard card license upgrade for $5. They sold $180,000 of these. There were other innovative marketing ideas, but Tennessee has clearly hit on a new strategy to get hunter numbers up.
West Virginia is hosting the next SEDSG meeting in February 2022, but whether the meeting is in person or virtual, Bowhunter will be there to bring you the latest deer research.