|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Say cheese, antler head

    Wildlife managers are experimenting with game-cameras in the woods as a replacement for spotlight deer counts
  • In one frame, a large black-tailed buck with long velvet antlers stands erect and regal like a Hollywood actor strutting in a check-me-out moment on the red carpet.
    • email print
  • In one frame, a large black-tailed buck with long velvet antlers stands erect and regal like a Hollywood actor strutting in a check-me-out moment on the red carpet.
    In another, just the tines of a blacktail buck appear in the image, like it's itching for a fight. And in another series of images, the camera captures three sequential shots of a doe approaching and then apparently giving the camouflaged camera a good sniff-over, maybe even a taste.
    These jpeg moments of blacktails in Jackson County's woods are more than just the latest "deer porn" collected on game cameras — a growing hobby of using infrared-triggered cameras to sneak shots of big deer and other wildlife.
    These shots were all captured in the name of science.
    State wildlife biologists are dipping into the game-cam world as part of an experiment to see whether pre-hunting-season census counts historically done at night with spotlights — the 20th century technology of poachers — might be done better with 21st century electronics.
    Twenty randomly placed motion-sensor cameras spent last week in the woods on around-the-clock patrol, snapping digital images of deer and other critters along game trails.
    For decades, these preseason counts have been done along old Jeep trails or hiking routes, but the animals' rough habitat and elusive nature make them tough to survey.
    Biologists are now hoping the sleuthy technology of game-cams can give them and hunters a better idea of what's happening in the woods heading into fall seasons.
    "Blacktails are so difficult to count and estimate," says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist who is heading up the study. "They're elusive beasts in thick cover. You can't just buzz them with a helicopter in the desert and count them all.
    "No state or province has a good way to count blacktails," he says. "That's why we're experimenting."
    So far, the experiment looks pretty good.
    Eighteen of the 20 cameras deployed in the woods last week caught images of deer, Vargas says. Collectively, they shot more than 100 images of deer and elk — more than three times the numbers tallied in recent preseason spotlight counts, Vargas says.
    "That's pretty good for being out there just a week," Vargas says.
    Vargas and other ODFW biologists have yet to analyze the data.
    "It's something new, and we'll see how it works," Vargas says.
    Since the 1950s, ODFW biologists here have driven backwoods roads with spotlights each spring and fall to count the bucks, does and fawns they see.
    The spotlight is used because it happens that the old cliche is true: deer really do stand frozen in the headlights. Freezing the animals makes for easier counting.
    The exact same counting routes are used at the same time each year. That way, the annual tallies can be compared and biologists can discern trends using a common practice called indexing.
    About 20 years ago, agency biologists here began the preseason counts, spending early August spotlighting three routes in the Rogue Unit totaling 70 miles, mostly high-elevation National Forest lands where deer spend the hot Southern Oregon summers.
    Those counts generate the sexy buck-to-doe ratios that make deer hunters drool while also providing a good idea of the past summer's fawn production.
    But a dearth of logging on these forest roads has caused high brush growth, which makes spotlighting far less productive than in the past, Vargas says.
    "We've counted 15 to 30 deer for the whole thing," Vargas says.
    Just moving to more deer-rich grounds doesn't help because it would skew the data, Vargas says. The counts need to be either along the same route year after year or be totally random.
    Vargas noticed that the ODFW had these game cameras used earlier for a study of Pacific fishers, so he floated the idea of using them for deer counts.
    After completing the spotlight counts earlier this month, Vargas and others randomly selected 20 spots in the Rogue Unit and set their cameras along deer trails close to those spots.
    They'll do both spotlight counts and camera counts for the next two years, then figure out what works best.
    Technology, however, seems to be winning the early rounds.
    "If we can count 100 deer, you can get a pretty good snapshot of what's going on out there," Vargas says.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
Reader Reaction

      calendar