This winter I was fortunate to tag along with a team of researchers as they captured bucks in northern Wisconsin. One focus of the research is to find mortality causes for bucks in two separate areas: the east-central counties of the state (mixed farmland and timber) and the “big woods” habitat of the northern counties.
We captured 10 deer that day. Four were fitted with telemetry collars, and will be tracked weekly until they die. The study is slated to end in 2015 but there is already some great information available. I talked to research biologist Jared Duquette about some of the most interesting data they’ve accumulated.
– Hunters kill more bucks than anything else: This isn’t shocking news, but if you’re tempted to think predators, vehicles, winter, or other factors are taking “your” deer, forget it. In the northern study area, hunters were the greatest mortality source for collared bucks (65 percent for adult bucks and 52 percent of the yearlings). In the eastern area, which has higher hunter densities, the numbers were even higher (86% for adult bucks, 82% for yearlings).
– Bucks are tough: Duquette told me about two different bucks that are true survivors. One, nicknamed “Sick Boy,” was captured two winters ago in the northern study area. Though severely wounded by a firearm, Sick Boy was fitted with a collar and tracked. Researchers didn’t feel he’d make it through the winter, but he’s still alive. Another buck died shortly after capture. Post-mortem examination revealed an old arrow wound that had completely collapsed one lung; the other lung exhibited only 40 percent function. The buck had lived for nearly a year after that near-fatal shot.
– Wounding loss: Duquette noted that 14 bucks have succumbed to wounding loss (shot by a hunter but not recovered). Thirteen of the bucks were wounded by firearm, one with a bow. Duquette says nearly all these bucks were in the central study area, where hunters routinely pass immature deer. “Are hunters taking long, or low-percentage, shots at bucks because they’re large? It’s all speculation, but it’s very interesting,” he says.
I’ll offer more updates on this fascinating study as they become available.