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Predator study workers

Lindsey Martinez, Tanner Klein and Chad Argabright collect data from a sedated Iowa County deer.

JERRY DAVIS, For the State Journal

BARNEVELD – Limited term Department of Natural Resources employees need to be incredibly good deer hunters, so good in fact that they capture and disable a deer and then revive it in less than an hour and send it on its way.

Wes Ellarson, one of several team leaders working in Dane, Iowa and Grant counties, used a climbing tree stand to watch for deer coming to lasagna pans of shelled corn. When the correct number of animals were under a drop net, he electronically dropped the net down on the deer.

Except this time the cold temperatures short-circuited and Ellarson had to drop the net mechanically. The slower drop allowed two of the three deer to squeeze out from under the net and escape. The third, an adult doe, was quickly restrained by Lindsey Martinez, another LTE, who weighted the deer down while a shot of sedative was administered.

The six-member crew had less than an hour to pull a blindfold over the deer’s face, record heart rate, temperature and breathing rate before checking fat, extracting a tooth for aging, add petroleum jelly to keep the eyes from drying, take a tiny rectal biopsy for chronic wasting disease analysis, bag a few fecal pellets, take a tissue sample from an ear, insert an ear tag in that hole and the tag other ear, too, and attach a GPS tracking collar. Other activities, too numerous to mention, were also attended to.

Prior to dropping the net, the crews spend several weeks monitoring deer activity in the vicinity, making sure their hours-long waits in a tree stand will likely be fruitful. These “hunters” are advantaged by having trail cameras watching the bait dishes day and night. If deer feed, the infrared camera records an image and sends it wireless to an office computer station with the time.

Wind direction, temperature, regularity of deer coming to feed and time of feeding are used to select the better sites for captures in one of 20 or so circus tent-like nets. Any one net might be dropped no more than once a week.

One of the deer who escaped from under the net was a fawn born May 2017, who was ear tagged and collared with a smaller unit than adult deer receive. That fawn unit has a life expectancy of about a year, while the larger units adult deer carry on their necks may last the duration of the study, which is five years.

Had the fawn not escaped, she would have been fitted with an adult deer collar. It is likely that the deer captured was this fawn’s mother.

In addition to deer, bobcats and coyotes are captured, collared and released, too.

Dan Storm, DNR researcher in Rhinelander, is coordinating the study and also serves as the spokesperson for the department.

“Our goal is to capture 200 deer this winter and about 100 fawns, too,” he said. “We didn’t meet that goal last year, but hope to this winter provided the weather is conducive to patterning deer.”

Some of the adult deer captured and collared last year died during hunting seasons and other from a variety of different factors. That’s where the predator part of the study comes in. Reports later this winter, from Storm, will explain what has been learned to date about deer mortality, deer movement and habitats used, as well as numerous other facts and information.

Last year was in part a learning year, according to Storm.

“This year we will be more efficient in capture and monitoring the collared deer, too,” he said. “For example, we can use the tracking of adult females and determine when and where they give birth. All fawns are captured by hand, so that may tell us better where to search.”

The majority of trapping and fawn searching is conducted on private property, with approval of the landowners, and in some cases with their assistance.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer from Barneveld, at or 608-924-1112.