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Louisiana White-tailed Deer Researchers Release Study Findings

By Justin Thayer, Michael Chamberlain and Scott Durham

-- The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Louisiana State University initiated a deer telemetry project in fall 2006. The project, titled "Population Characteristics of a White-tailed Deer Herd in a Bottomland Hardwood Forest of South-central Louisiana," is expected to provide useable information for Louisiana deer and land managers. 

The primary objectives of the study are to assess spatial use and movements of male and female white-tailed deer; evaluate age- and sex-specific harvest rates of white-tailed deer; and to evaluate survival and cause-specific mortality of male and female white-tailed deer.

The research is being conducted on approximately 40,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest located west of Baton Rouge, La., and east of Atchafalaya Basin. The study area is currently leased to more than 30 private hunting clubs. Each club belongs to a cooperative that promotes quality deer management on the property. The study site is within the state's latest breeding area, with peak breeding typically occurring in mid-January.

LSU Deer Researcher Justin Thayer and a group of technicians used drop nets and dart projectors in West Baton Rouge Parish to capture and mark 65 white-tailed deer during 2007 and 2008. They radio-marked 37 males and 11 females, and ear-marked another 10 males and seven females. The radio-marked deer have been monitored since February 2007 and will continue to be monitored until December 2008. 

The study's researchers have been able to get amazingly close to some of the bucks while taking GPS locations, which illustrates the adult bucks' abilities to avoid hunters by lying low in heavy cover. All deer have been monitored using ground and aerial telemetry 3-5 times per week. 

Interstate 10, a high-volume roadway, runs through the study area. To date, no deer have been located on an opposite side of the interstate from which they were marked.
 
During the 2007-08 hunting season, nine of 21 collared deer were taken by hunters during Louisiana's deer seasons, indicating a 43-percent harvest rate.

Preliminary analyses indicate average annual home ranges for males at 347 acres and females at 65 acres.  Additionally, dispersal has been documented in five of 11 (45 percent) 11/2-year-old males fitted with expandable radio-collars. Dispersal has occurred during February-April with distances ranging 2.5 to 8.5 miles.

This study's initial results indicate the deer have smaller home ranges than anticipated or seen in similar studies in the Southeast. The results suggest that private landowners managing small amounts of property, 50-300 acres, mighty be able to practice quality deer management at scales previously thought to be ineffective at improving herd dynamics at broader scales.  

A second deer telemetry study will begin in the northern part of the state in January 2009.  This study will take place in the pine dominant habitat of Union Parish. In a recent survey, Union Parish was the top deer harvest parish in the state. 

Near the study area is the 11,000-acre Union Wildlife Management Area with an average annual harvest rate of more than 200 deer. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists have held managed hunts in this area for nearly 30 years. 

The data and information gained from this annual hunt helped establish the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). This program still provides technical assistance to serious deer hunters and private landowners interested in balanced deer herds and habitat management.

For more information about this study, e-mail Scott Durham, sdurham@wlf.louisiana.gov, or Justin Thayer, jthaye1@gmail.com.

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