I am a wildlife graduate student studying elk habitat selection. All of the elk field work was completed before I started my project and all of my work is done in a Geographic Information System (GIS). While I don’t have any field work for my own research I am a part of a deer trapping team. This team includes 4 of us graduate students and 2 program technicians. The deer trapping happens in Choctaw Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Deer Research Unit. We trap deer to take measurements and put a GPS radio collar on them. Then for the following year we collect locations from the collars via satellites. After about a year the collars are remotely triggered to drop and we go collect them from the field.
So how do we trap deer?
We set up 10 drop nets in different habitat types across the WMA. The drop nets are 60×60 feet and held up by 5 poles and a series of ropes, pulleys, and cables.
The trigger pole is where all the ropes come together and attach to the trigger mechanism.
A rope is connected to a the trigger mechanism. The rope is then run to the blind where we sit and wait for a deer to come under the drop net. The trigger rope is pulled, the trigger is released, and the net drops.
We get the deer to come under the drop net by baiting with rice bran. It takes a few days for the deer to start visiting the bait but once they do they clean it out!
We check bait piles to find which nets are being visited and choose 2 drop-net sites to watch, about 3 times a week. We get into the blinds around 4pm and stay until we drop.
When the sun sets we use night vision to watch the nets. Of course, not only deer like the rice bran. We commonly get birds, opossums, raccoons and even skunks visiting the sites. These native small animals don’t stay long and don’t disrupt the deer. But the animals that do disrupt deer movement? Feral hogs. To read more about the problems Arkansas has with feral hogs click here. While our main objective is to collar deer, if we get a large group of hogs, we will drop and dispatch them.
But the fun happens when we get a deer under the net!! This was my first night trapping deer and we dropped on this year-and-a-half buck. The moments before pulling the trigger rope my heart was racing. Once this buck put his nose into the bait, my coworker told me to “Drop it!” and I riped the trigger rope up! As soon as the net dropped we flew out of the blind to get on top of the deer.
The net is incredibly heavy and knocked his spike antlers off, which is ok because he would be dropping them in the next few weeks anyways. The first thing we do is jump on the deer and put a hood over its eyes. The hood really helps keep the deer calm and the calmer they are the less of a chance they have of injuring themselves.
Once we’ve got the deer under control, we quickly “work them up” which involves taking body condition measurements, sexing and aging. Then we attach a plastic tag and metal tag to the deer’s ears.
When we are on top of them we actually keep all of our weight in our knees. That way if the deer tries to buck we can shift our weight to keep them down but we aren’t continually putting weight on their chest. In this picture I am holding the hood down and keeping this buck from kicking and getting further tangled, but all my weight is in my knees and feet.
We have to continually check to be sure their heart rate is not too high and that they are breathing. We generally do not sedate or anesthetize the deer. Sedation just adds another variable and another chance for things to go wrong for the animal. If we have a lot of deer under the net and not enough people, or a really large and aggressive buck, we will sedate with Acepromazine which will not put them to sleep but calm then down a little.
On our second night of trapping, we dropped on this big boy along with two other bucks. Big boy turned out to be an 8-point. Usually the first thing we do with a big buck is remove their antlers. At this time of the year the rut has ended and the males are getting ready to drop their antlers. Sawing the antlers off is not painful for the deer. And it is a necessity for both our safety and the deer’s safety. Even if we get the collar on before removing the antlers, they still need to be removed before we release the deer because he could turn back and charge us.
This was our last deer of the night so we were all helping to work it up. We tattoo their ears too, thats what that green ink is. What takes the longest is getting them out of the net but once we do they spring off the ground and disappear back into the woods.
At the end of our second trap night we’d collared 5 bucks and dispatched 2 hogs. Everyone was still blown away by the 8-point and we all took pictures with the antlers! The antlers will go back to the wildlife lab to be weighed.
My first trap nights were amazing and I can’t wait to get back out to the blind! We’ve got 5 down, and 25 more collars to go out!