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Infrared Cameras Record Accurate Deer Numbers
By Allison Matthews
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's white-tailed deer population has undoubtably increased in recent years, and wildlife specialists are using a new tool to more accurately survey deer numbers.
Infrared-triggered cameras have shown great potential as an accurate survey method. The cameras showed so much promise that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks funded research to refine the method for use on private and state-owned properties, said Steve Demarais, associate wildlife biologist in Mississippi State University's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Demarais said survey information will allow more effective management of the wildlife. The survey technique was developed in the mid-1990s by Harry Jacobson at MSU and a colleague at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.
"Now that we have refined this survey technique, the next step is to start expanding the census effort around the state," Demarais said. "We hope to start next year doing camera surveys at selected management areas throughout the state operated by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks."
Officials estimate there are about 1.5 million to 2 million deer statewide, but Demarais said those numbers are only very rough approximations.
"It is a very difficult challenge to come up with an accurate estimate of the statewide deer population," he said. "We hope to collect data from smaller areas and over time extrapolate out to larger areas. The research will give more accurate portrayals of deer density, sex ratio and age structure.
"We need to learn more about deer populations to effectively manage them. We are in a new phase of deer management in Mississippi and the Southeast," he said. "Deer populations have increased in the last 20 years to the point that they are now problems as well as treasures."
MSU researchers and graduate students will collect information to aid in managing the potentially conflicting positive and negative aspects of the state's deer population.
"For example, we need to document the effects of over- abundant deer on forest regeneration," Demarais said. "MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center is working on these and other topics to manage our deer resources more effectively."
Infrared-triggered cameras are a valuable tool for gaining the information researchers seek, Demarais said. The photographic records of individual animals also provide the information needed to classify bucks by age and antler quality, estimate the buck/doe/fawn ratio, provide hunters with the minimum number of bucks currently known on the property, and give a prehunt examination of bucks to determine which deer should and should not be harvested to reach management goals.
Demarais said camera surveys are a reliable method of estimating deer numbers. Spotlight counts are feasible, but they are more variable than the camera survey. All survey techniques have limitations, and there is no single 100 percent accurate method to survey deer in Mississippi.
The new infrared cameras are getting the attention of hunting enthusiasts and landowners who want to get an idea of the game animals on their land.
"The added value of a camera survey is the in-hand picture of deer on your property," Demarais said. "It adds a dimension of excitement to hunters and landowners."
Demarais said that while the infrared camera survey technique cannot answer every deer population question with complete accuracy, it is an exciting tool that can be used in conjunction with other deer data collection techniques.
Contact: Dr. Steve Demarais, (662) 325-2618