I recently had the opportunity to spend a night trapping deer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Our guide was biologist Dr. Chris Rosenberry, Deer Management Section Supervisor. Also part of the team was Martinsburg native Tom Gieder, Supervisor of South Central Deer Research.
We met the team in Perry County on a wintry Friday afternoon, and saw first-hand the extent to which these dedicated professionals go to study and manage the state’s deer herd.
Rosenberry explained two different types of deer trapping. The deer commission sets box traps or Clover traps, metal cages that deer enter and then cannot escape. The biologists check the traps each morning. When they have a capture, the scientists enter the cage, physically subdue the animal (sometimes being forced to wrestle a thrashing animal), tag the deer with a transmitter, and then release it.
Another form of deer trapping is a much more time consuming stakeout. Drop nets (nets suspended from posts that are released onto grazing deer) or rocket nets (nets “shot’’ over the deer from the ground) are monitored for hours by Gieder. The animals are tranquilized and tagged, then revived and released. Gieder sat nearly motionless in a camouflaged teepee-like blind for more than four hours in a driving snowstorm. While deer did enter the drop net area, it was impossible to trap them that particular night in the low-visibility conditions.
This process has been ongoing since the close of the deer hunting season. After all of the allotted transmitters have been placed on deer, the biologists are able to track the animals with radio telemetry receivers. They use this information to determine deer mortality and deer movements.
This information, along with data gathered from additional studies, allows the scientists to evaluate the state of the deer population in Pennsylvania, and then make recommendations for the future management of the herd.
This is a difficult and often thankless job. There is no pleasing all of the different interest groups in the state. Hunters, foresters, farmers, gardeners, environmentalists, land owners, and even drivers have different ideas of how many deer are enough or too many. The Game Commission’s task is to balance all of these interests to achieve the goals developed by an advisory board. The mission remains to maintain a healthy deer herd, maintain healthy forest habitat and minimize deer-human conflicts.
The debate over deer management in Pennsylvania has raged for decades, and while some hunters feel that they are not seeing enough deer in the woods, Rosenberry reports a healthy herd, albeit smaller than seven or eight years ago. The deer population is maintained through a variety of hunting regulations, some of which are controversial among hunters.
That means these dedicated scientists are stuck in the middle of a philosophical and often political debate, one for which there is no easy answer.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at email@example.com.