Deer Survey Methods: Spotlight, Cameras, Stand Counts

Question: “We have hunted whitetail deer in the blackland prairie region of Texas for many years, but this year is looking quite bad. I’m very concerned about the range conditions and how they will effect whitetail hunting this season. Typically, deer in our area have corn to fall back on as a food source, but this year it did not produce. In fact,┬ámost of the stalks in the immediate area did not even producing a single ear of corn. The majority of the farmers are just shredding it down and filing insurance claims.

We have good habitat, but it’s in poor condition. We have three protein feeders and the deer are eating about 2,400 pounds a month. We’ve also kept all of out corn feeders going to try and help the deer out. The spring food plots we planted never came up, and it does not look like they will even if we do get some rain. No food plots until fall I guess, when we shall try again. We are interested in determining how many deer are on our property. Do you think a couple spotlight surveys would work? We always have trail cameras out in the field, and we keep track of the deer we see every time we are on the property. Any suggestions appreciated. Thank you. M.J.”

Whitetail Hunting: Surveys for Deer

Response: It sounds like you are in the same boat as every other deer hunter in Texas this year. Drought conditions across the state are shaping up to be the worst in many, many decades. Habitat is looking lackluster and there are hungry fawns on the ground right now. This makes it tough for lactating does, so feeding protein to deer right now makes a ton of sense. This management practice, though expensive, will probably save your fawn crop this year. Of course, the bucks on your property will also be in much better shape and sport larger antlers, too.

There are many ways to survey white-tailed deer. For your location, it sounds like spotlight surveys would work great for you. Spotlight surveys take into account not only the number of deer observed, but also the amount of area surveyed. With spotlight surveys, it is just as important to accurately estimate the amount of visible land surveyed as it is to count deer. To find out more about how to conduct spotlight surveys for deer, check out that.

Motion-activated game cameras can also be used to collect useful population data. Properly used trail cameras can collect the same information as the daylight surveys you conduct. Read this about game camera surveys for deer before you start. Cameras must be placed away from food sources, typically along trails, roadways or the edges of fields—basically anywhere that deer travel. Cameras placed on protein feeders are biased towards bucks, meaning you will see more bucks. This is because bucks tend to “dominate” high quality food sources. Game cameras also work on food plots (which you don’t have) since it’s hard for an individual animal to prevent others from accessing an entire field of food.

Also, it sounds like you are very interested in deer management. Texas actually has a state-administered program called the Managed Lands Deer Permit Program. Under the program, a biologist is assigned to work with you to achieve your management goals. Landowners that conduct habitat management practices on their property get issued MLD Permits based on deer survey data. I would recommend looking into it since you are already doing the work and it appears to fall in line with your management objectives.

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