For many hunters, the hunting portion of the 2015-16 deer season has or is in the process of winding down. For those that conduct pre-season deer surveys either by spotlight or by remote camera, post-season deer counts can provide some additional data as management plans are made for the upcoming year.
Counts conducted from mid-January through late February provide a good check of the deer population status at a time when deer are responding well to bait sites and because of the increased visibility due to leaf drop along established spotlight routes.
For spotlighters, use the same routes that were used during pre-season and mimic that technique as closely as possible including the distance and number of counts run during the post-season. While fawns will certainly be more difficult to distinguish from adult does during late winter, visibility will be much greater.
For remote camera users, it is again important to mimic the technique used in pre-season. For example, if cameras were placed along game trails during pre-season for census, this same technique should be used at the same locations if possible during post-season. In other words, avoid comparing a pre-season game trail count to a post-season bait site count and vice versa.
Remember that either technique simply provides an estimate of the deer herd present and not exact numbers, however, trends can be established from year to year if the same technique is employed the same way each time a census count is conducted.
Of all the spotlight and camera censuses I have conducted, I had only one instance when the pre-season survey deer number minus the deer season harvest number equaled the post-season count number. Again, we are simply looking for trends in the population over time.
Probably the best attribute of a post-season count is that it instills confidence in the hunters and landowners that they do indeed have deer remaining following the deer season. In addition, the post-season count is a better indicator of the number of fawns that have successfully recruited into the deer herd.
For those that want to kick-start a good deer management effort in 2016 but have never conducted a deer population survey, reference the following publications: Deer Census Techniques, Surveying White-tailed Deer Populations Using Infra-triggered Cameras and Potential Uses for Trail Cameras in Wildlife Management.
Contact Dr. Billy Higginbotham at Billy.Higginbotham@ag.tamu.edu.