Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read) - The HuntingPA.com Outdoor Community
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 06:17 PM Thread Starter
Wiz
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Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Over the past few years, I have read countless postings from hunters on this forum stating that "there are few deer in the area that they hunt because they don't see any or as many as they used to". This "data" is usually followed by or is preceded by something along the lines of "the PGC has wiped out the deer herd". The first thing that that comes to my mind is that maybe these hunters are actually poor hunters and just think they are better at seeing deer than they really are.

Some of you know that I am an aquatic biologist for an agency in the state I currently reside and my interest in HuntingPA is because I grew up, lived, and hunted in PA for 24 years and have continued to hunt small game, bear, and deer in PA since I moved away 10 years ago.

During the past 7 years, I have been involved in several projects to assess the rarity of freshwater mussels in rivers in the Southeastern US. One of the techniques that we have been using is estimating detection probability of mussels in these rivers. Detection probability is defined as the probability of detecting (catching, seeing, hearing, etc.) a species or individual(s) given that it/they are actually present at a location.

Current studies that we have been doing with mussels have indicated that we only collect between 20-40% of the individuals present at a site on any given sampling occasion. This does vary by a number of conditions such as habitat, weather patterns, etc. However, mussels are relative immobile and typically don't move much more than a couple feet per year based on our observations. However, despite being immobile, we still only collect a small fraction of the individuals present even though we know they are there and even though we use a standardized method each year.

This leads me back to deer hunting and the fact that deer are highly mobile and can react to human encroachment, thus making them possibly more difficult to detect. I think many of us have had experiences where we have walked right past deer without seeing them until they jump up right behind us and run the other way. We often wonder how many more have we walked past and didn't know that they were there. One recent deer study I read compared spotlight surveys to surveys with thermal imaging and found that spotlights surveys failed to detect about 49% of the deer detected by thermal imaging.

So, this brings me to my question that I've been wanting to ask the HuntingPA membership: What percentage of the deer present in the area you hunt, do you think you actually see while hunting? In other words how good do you think you are?

I'll start off by saying I think I see a maximum of around 35% of the deer in the area I hunt on my best hunting days and fewer on the other days.

Sorry for the long post, but I thought this would be a very interesting post and was interested in seeing how people perceived their abilities to detect deer since personal observations of deer seem to be talked about often. I can show a quick and dirty way to estimate the population size or density based on detection and count data if anyone is interested.
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 07:00 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Quote:
So, this brings me to my question that I've been wanting to ask the HuntingPA membership: What percentage of the deer present in the area you hunt, do you think you actually see while hunting?
Depends on a number of factors as to how many deer I see when hunting, as a percentage of how many are actually in the area.

While in the woods, a small percentage, because I no longer cover as much ground as I once could.

Driving around on summer evenings when deer come out to feed, or spotlighting in the fall: A much higher percentage. Having hunted the same area for over 50 years, pretty much know where to see deer at those times.

Plus I've kept track of deer seen under those conditions for the past 35 years, on exactly the same routes, so I have a constant baseline to "guess" at deer populations in my area.

Have gone from 120-130 deer seen on good evenings in the late 90s, to a low of around 60 to 70 in the years immediately after HR came about. Now back up to 80-90 again, on the "best" evenings, which is about how many we might've seen in the mid-1980s.

Given that the route covers roughly 2 square miles on average, that's a pretty good indication of how many deer are around, based on the assumption that while we've seen quite a few deer out, we haven't seen 'em all.



Also tend to spend time driving around and glassing areas where I know deer tend to gather at various times of the year, so that also gives a good idea of how many deer are around. It's also allowed me to see newborn fawns in the spring and bucks with decent antlers coming, in the summers.

While glassing during deer seasons, I have seen hunters walk close to bedded deer and never see them, when those deer held tight. Have also seen deer run far ahead of drivers, circle around and often come right back to where they were, without having given drivers a glimpse of them.

In both cases, those hunters would've had the impression that there were no or few deer there, without having known what had actually been the case.

My opinion, is that many hunters never really have much of a clue, as to how many deer are really around. If I've seen tracks, evidence of browsing, pellets, rubs and scrapes, then I know there are deer in the area. Whether I get to see many of them, is often another story.


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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 07:28 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Thanks Denny.

In the mid to late 90's I had similar observations in the summer. We would go out in the evenings to glass the neighbor's fields and would count 15 bucks each night and never one doe. Obviously there had to be a high population of doe to have that many bucks.

I've also watched hunters walk right up to deer and never see them. I've been one of the hunters that walk past them more often than not. One evening, I ended up walking past 2 doe that were standing in a tree line within 15 yards of me. As I passed them, I turned around while walking and could see them clear as could be and they just waited for me to pass without moving. I never stopped, but just kept walking slow watching them behind me and they just stood there.
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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 07:49 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

There has been research done where there were a good amount of deer in an enclosed area and they put in supposedly experienced hunters to find them and the observation rate was very small. Couple that with the fact that there are hunters who have a dificult time seeing deer, something Iobserved first hand on many occasions and it isn't hard to believe people can be in an area and not see deer when in fact they are there and have actully passed by those people without being observed.




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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 09:04 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

I remember that study. High fenced area, known number of deer inside and experienced hunters that tramped about to see how many deer they could spot, found a very low percentage of the deer known to be in there.

IIRC, it was conducted in Michigan, maybe 25 years ago?

Another observation I've made over the past few years, is how a lack of hunting pressure affects deer in the area I hunt in. Not unusual now to see good numbers of deer out feeding in the afternoon during the first week.

Some areas where camps empty out by Wednesday, I often see deer out feeding as if nothing unusual had happened in the previous few days. Years ago, with far more pressure, it often took deer an entire week to "settle down" again.

Some folks' learnin' curves just look like circles...3A Camp/also hunt 4B
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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 09:19 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Lots of sightings and lots of roadkills around here this year.
I'm thinking the population will be out of control again within a few years in my area at least, if nothing changes with the tags/seasons.

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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-18-2011, 10:43 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Deer numbers are already rapidly increasing where I hunt in 3A, but some that hunt there are still yappin' about "needing" more deer. For the most part, these are guys that spend most of their deer seasons in a tree stand or hut and have little idea what deer numbers there are, at the moment. If they don't see deer around their stands, then to them, there aren't enough deer.

Granted, there are still some areas not far away, where deer aren't that abundant. But there are also some areas with far more deer, than around my camp area. They are pretty much the same areas that had deer 30 years ago, when deer were still fairly scarce around my own area.

Funny how that's worked out.


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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-19-2011, 06:09 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

Quote:
So, this brings me to my question that I've been wanting to ask the HuntingPA membership: What percentage of the deer present in the area you hunt, do you think you actually see while hunting? In other words how good do you think you are?
As soon as I read this I said to myself about a third. So I would be in the same ballpark as you @33%. I always knew I did not see all the deer in my hunting areas and always said I missed about half. I figured I saw twice as much when spotting at night or out with a light. Well that was until they did the FLIR study in my area. Knowing that they even miss some with that gear showed me I missed more than I thought.

I think the real problem is many people/hunters look at the estimates and think the deer are evenly distributed.Thus each square mile should have X number of deer and when hunting all the deer in that square mile should come past your perfectly picked location to be seen. Because we all know we each have that "perfect " spot. Waugh!

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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-19-2011, 06:34 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

I don't have to see deer to know if there is any there or not, case in point I hunted an area and declared it void of Deer.... my declaration was later backed-up by infa-red cameras and a report put out on what is probally the most studied Deer herd in the Nation.
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 06-19-2011, 07:54 PM
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Re: Deer Detection (a bit long but worth the read)

I think the percentage changes on every hunt and on how I
hunt. During drives or still hunting I probably see a higher
percantage of the deer in my area than if I just sit in a
stand the whole time. Yet I see some good numbers of deer
some times when I stand hunt. I would not hunt an area if I
felt it was devoid of deer. The places I hunt I know that
there is enough deer there to hunt.

I'd rather be fishing or hunting!
Youth Chairman of Chapter 803 PF, NEPA.
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