New study areas: New challenges

Farm Forum

Since the start of 2015, Game, Fish & Parks staff was busy across the state capturing and collaring a total of 340 adult and yearling deer. In an effort to better understand survival rates of our deer herd, we look to these deer survival studies to help provide data to improve future deer management across the state.

This year brought many new challenges as we expanded study efforts to new areas across the state. Previously we have been monitoring deer in Clark County. New study areas require a substantial amount of preparation, coordination as well as hundreds of phone calls and contacts. Eastern Brown County was selected as the new study site in the northeast. Approximately 300 Brown County landowners were contacted for permission; majority of landowners were very receptive and granted permission to carry out this study on their properties.

Monitoring deer in Brown County is timely as we hear concerns from area sportsmen and landowners regarding landscape changes and its possible impacts on the deer population. Due to the high water levels that Brown County has seen over the past 2 decades, the landscape has indeed changed. The James River, the Elm River, and Crow Creek make up the main waterways through Eastern Brown County. These waterways seasonally flow out of their banks and cover much of the lowlands, often times limiting growth of any agricultural crops. Many areas along these waterways have succumbed to cattail growth and have developed into some outstanding cover for all wildlife species, especially White-tailed Deer.

Since we were looking at capturing 100 adult deer, we contracted with a helicopter capture crew to capture the deer from the air as the deer often congregate in remote cattail cover during the cold winter months of January through March. As a result, we were able to collar 55 does and 51 bucks in Brown County. After the adults and yearlings were fitted with VHF radio-collars, we are able to track these individuals to determine annual survival rates and monitor these individuals on an annual basis. We will continue to monitor these collared deer year round.

Once the month of May hit, we switched gears to get ready for our fawn capture efforts in the same study area. With peak parturition occurring the final week of May, permanent and seasonal staff scoured the countryside looking for newborn fawns. We were able to successfully capture and collar 55 fawns which were fitted with a smaller version of the adult radio-collars. Unlike the adult collars which are made of leather and will stay with that individual the rest of their lives, the fawn collar is made from an elastic material that will deteriorate and fall off within two years. We will continue to monitor the fawns year round as well in order to collect 3-month, 6-month, and annual survival rates.

Again, this study would not be possible without the cooperation of area landowners and sportsmen. So finally, I would like to thank the landowners of Brown County for their cooperation as we begin this study. Without their permission we simply wouldn’t be able to capture the number of deer needed to conduct a study of this magnitude. I would also like to thank the sportsmen of Brown County for understanding and supporting the importance of collecting these vital rates to help us better manage deer throughout South Dakota.

If you would like to see some amazing photos and read more about our deer capture and from across the state, please check out the May/June 2015 edition of the South Dakota Conservation Digest. It can be seen online at ( or picked up at our local GFP office.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Brown County Chapter of South Dakota Whitetails Unlimited for providing funding to purchase fawn collars for the 2013 Clark County capture and for expandable buck collars for the 2015 Brown County capture.