I captured my first buck last night around 22:30. I have personally captured probably ~30 adult does in a previous 7 year study we conducted on fawn survival. However, I have assisted on hundreds of captures of adult and neonate deer in my career. We implanted the does with vaginal implant transmitters (VIT) in that previous study and then monitored the does for months until they gave birth. We then went to the birth sites and collared the fawns. It was a much more intensive project back then. We’re collaring deer again now 5 years after our completion of that big fawn study. This study is not nearly as intensive. We’re just collaring them with satellite collars to monitor their movements before and after we remove wild pigs, an invasive species, in experimental areas. We have two types of experimental areas for wild pig removal, areas where we use traditional trapping methods, and areas where we use “smart traps.” Traditional trapping methods are “root and stick” type traps or box traps. “Smart traps” are the latest technological advanced type of traps where we use trail cameras that text us photos of pigs in the trap, we wait until all the pigs are in the trap, then text the trap to shut the door. Traditional trapping methods do not use cameras and typically capture the first animal(s) to trip the wire or pan in the trap. “Smart traps” show you what you have or not have and are obviously more efficient. What we want to do, is to test whether “smart traps” are more effective and efficient. We think “smart traps” are better but in science you have to prove it and the only way to prove it is to put it to the test. That’s what we’re doing.
In our last big deer study I used an air projector dart gun. My favorite is the X-cal, a modernized projector manufactured by Pneu-dart. They made the projector look like a semi-automatic weapon so it definitely looks cool. But Pneu-dart definitely improved and modernized the air projector with their new creation. I haven’t missed with that gun, I mean that literally. We also have Dan-Inject projectors which we used exclusively for 5 years and were our first and only means of capturing deer. Those are older and shot placement on those are more variable and less reliable I think. The X-cal is reliable. Tight groupings. Well, we also have a .389 Pneu-dart “charge” gun. This gun uses a .22 round to project the dart. It shoots straight and flat but makes a loud bang and blackens the dart a little. You can’t re-use the dart many times with the .389. The .389 is heavier too. We mounted a laser rangefinder scope (Zeiss) on the gun to determine the distances of the deer. There are several settings on the .389 that control the force of the shot, and therefore, the distance the dart travels. We sighted in the .389 and got the settings where we want them. The .389 is different from the air projectors in that we use it exclusively for driving and shooting deer from a truck. The air projectors we typically use for darting deer from a fixed position like a tree. However, in the old days we used the air projectors for driving and darting too but we weren’t nearly as effective with them compared to the .389. The air projectors are all sighted in for 15 yards. Fifteen yards is our fixed measured distance for darting deer from a fixed position. We bait up the deer to a corn pile that is a precisely measured distance to a tree of our choosing. So it’s like bow hunting but at night and with a night-vision scope. The .389 doesn’t have a night vision scope, it has a big bulky laser rangefinder scope which is necessary for driving and shooting. The deer are at variable distances from the road and we use spotlights to find and light up the target deer.
Now that I have explained the guns and study some I’ll get to my story. Last night was the first time I had ever used the .389. In that 7 year study, I almost always was the driver when it came to driving and darting deer from the road. I was good at spotting the deer and putting the truck and shooter (my boss) in a position to shoot the deer. In addition, in our previous study we only captured mature does in order to implant them with VITs. In this current smaller study we are capturing mature bucks at least 2 years of age. We haven’t captured any bucks yet. So it was a first for a couple things. It was literally the first time I had shot the .389 at a deer and it was the first buck we have purposefully captured for study. We captured bucks accidentally in our previous work but that study’s adult deer capture was in the winter and early spring when bucks didn’t have antlers and so we sometimes mistakenly shot them from the road because they looked like a doe. And we only made those mistakes when darting from the road because darting from a fixed position we used trail cameras and have sufficient information on our target deer. We just took basic information on those accidental bucks and gave them an ear tag. Driving and darting is much more random.
Here’s a photograph of my first captured buck (below). It’s a 2 year old 6 point. He weighed ~ 135 lbs we think. We put blindfolds on our captured deer so they remain calm and don’t react to any light from our headlamps. They are out cold from the drug but blindfolds are an extra precaution. Tranquilizer darts carry about 1.9 cc of drug that knock them out. The deer typically move around 80 to 150 yards after they are shot and then go to sleep. The tranquilizer dart has a small transmitter that we can track to. I caught him around 22:30 and we worked him up for about 45 minutes.
Here’s a photograph of the dart and the shot placement (below). It was a 40 yard shot. I aimed high according to the settings we have and I have to admit, there was some luck involved in this shot. It’s not the ideal shot placement but it worked. We aim for the back leg on the deer. I hit the hamstring essentially and a few inches to the right and I would have hit the hock and we would have lost the dart and the transmitter. The idea is to hit muscle so the deer receives the injection of the drug. The dart has a small charge that goes off when it hits and stops abruptly. The force of the impact activates the charge. The charge pushes or closes the chamber that contains the drug up through the needle into the deer. The needle has barbs so it gets caught in some muscle tissue. The drug needs to get into the blood stream to have an effect. There is no muscle in the hock, it’s just skin and cartilage, so hitting areas like that on a deer will get you into some trouble. These new style darts now have flashing blue lights. So when I shot this deer we knew we hit it because we saw the flashing blue light move around and then disappear into the woods. The buck was walking around in a power line right-of-way when we spotted him. I removed the dart carefully and treated and cleaned his wound. We take great care of our captured animals and follow a long list of procedures to ensure the animal is treated to highest ethical standards. We use a “reversal” drug which is injected when we have completed our work-up. The “reversal” drug works fast and the deer is back up on its feet in a matter of a few minutes.
Here’s a photo of the satellite collar we put on the buck. We leave room for the buck’s neck to swell during the rut. Notice we can fit some fingers in between the collar the buck’s neck. The rut typically starts in late August and goes to January. The peak of the rut is mid to late October here though but there are varying smaller peaks throughout that August-January time period. A buck’s neck can swell up significantly during the rut so we have to leave them some room to grow. We also give our captured deer a numbered ear tag. The collars we are using have drop-off mechanisms attached to the collar which you clearly see here in this photo. The drop-offs have tiny charges that go off and “break” the collar at a pre-set and fixed time. The collar will just drop off the deer and we will go pick the collar up at that location. These collars will drop off in 2 years I believe and we actually email us when they do drop off.
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