Tag Archives: white-tailed deer

Outdoor Activities in State Parks: Hunting

Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license.  The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.

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A hunter with her dog, photo by Bellamy Reynolds

During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.

Being a hunter – what does it take?

Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.

Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.

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A deer path, from, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADeer_Path.JPG

Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.

Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.

Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.

A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.

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Learn more:

Department of Environmental Conservation Sportsman Education

Post by Lilly Schelling, State Parks

Sampling Wildlife Populations in State Parks: White-tailed Deer

It is important to monitor wildlife populations to ascertain how a species is surviving and how that may impact other wildlife populations and forest biodiversity. In many of our state parks, especially in the Hudson Valley, we monitor the deer population and the effect that deer are having on the forest vegetation. One method we use to monitor the deer population is a “distance survey” conducted at night, using spotlights, a range finder (to determine the distance between the deer and the vehicle) and a protractor, for measuring the angle at which the deer were observed. Four people and a vehicle are needed in this survey. Two “spotlighters” sit in the back seat and search for deer, the driver keeps the vehicle at five mph and stops when a deer is seen to get the information on the deer, and a scribe sits in the passenger seat to record the data. Data recorded includes deer group size, sex, age, habitat type, distance in yards and angle from the vehicle. To determine a deer’s sex, the surveyor notes if the deer has antlers or not – age and sex are defined as fawn, doe or buck.

Deer Diagram

As an example, the above diagram shows a group of two deer at a distance of 3 yards and an angle of 75˚ from the side of the vehicle. The yellow color represents where the surveyors are shining their lights. The surveyor defines this as a  group of a buck, due to the antlers, and a doe. These observed deer are in a mowed hayfield, so this habitat type would be recorded as agriculture.

Click on an image above to read the caption.

After driving the predetermined distance sampling routes, we headed home for the evening. Back in the office, the data obtained will be entered into a statistical program that will calculate the number of deer per square mile in this particular park. This data will be compared to previous year’s data to track the deer population and will help determine future wildlife management decisions.

Post, diagram and photos by Lilly Schelling.

 

 

Deciphering Winter Animal Tracks

Have you ever come across animal tracks in fresh snow? Deciphering the mystery of what types of animals inhabit the places we visit can be a fascinating, and relatively simple task if you have some basic knowledge of animal gaits and patterns.

First, it is important to keep in mind that snow conditions can make a significant difference in the way that a track looks. For example, a print may appear quite clear in wet snow, whereas prints in drier, powder-like snow may be harder to analyze because they are not as clearly defined.

The next step is to think critically about the gait of the animal; the manner in which it walks or moves. There are four types of gaits that most animals employ throughout their daily (and in many cases, nightly) activities.

The first type of gait is the most common – the walk. Animal tracks left behind by a walk show alternating evenly spaced prints in parallel rows with a short stride and wide straddle. The second type of gait is the trot.  When an animal is trotting, each hind foot moves at the same time as the opposite front foot. As the animal’s speed increases, the prints are spaced farther and farther apart. Next, we have the gallop, which is the swiftest form of movement for a mammal. Because an animal must expend a significant amount of energy to gallop, it usually won’t employ this method of movement for very long unless it is being chased by a predator. The straddle of a gallop is much smaller than that of a trot or a walk. Lastly, jumping is the most energy consuming gait. During jumping, there is at least one stage where all four feet leave the ground entirely.  Examples of jumping animals include squirrels and rabbits.

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Above: Squirrel tracks feature four toes on the front feet and five on the back, with claws visible. When squirrels run, their back feet land in front of their front feet, so this track is evidence that this squirrel was running. This print was left in shallow wet snow, hence the distinct print outline.

 

Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.
Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.

In addition to determining the gait of the animal whose print you are examining, the shape of the track helps to identify what family or group of critter you are dealing with. For example, tracks from animals in the cat family are roundish and show four toes on both the back and front feet.  You won’t see any claw marks on cat prints because cats walk with their claws retracted. Members of the dog family (coyotes and foxes) leave prints with four toes showing on both the back and front feet. You can distinguish these prints from those of the cat family because the print is less rounded, and claw prints are typically visible. Deer tracks are prevalent throughout the state and are easy to identify. These prints are heart-shaped with a line down the middle. Moose tracks are similar in appearance; however they are considerably larger in size. Tracks from members of the rodent family as well as the weasel family can vary widely. Reference the key below for help with these types of tracks.

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Above: Key for identifying animal tracks. These are just some of the tracks you may encounter in New York State Parks and Historic Sites.

 

 Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Watch this video produced by our friends at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to learn more analyzing winter animal tracks and winter wildlife viewing: http://www.dec.ny.gov/dectv/dectv116.html

Information sourced from the New York State Conservationist (February 2001).

Post by Megan Phillips, photos by Lilly Schelling (OPRHP).