Historically, deer populations in the Southern Appalachians have been an important source of recreation and sustenance for local residents. Also, thousands of hunters have traveled annually to the mountains of North Georgia to hunt deer, specifically on Wildlife Management Areas on the Chattahoochee National Forest.
In recent decades, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) documented significant decreases in deer harvest. It appears that deer populations have plummeted as have hunter numbers. Since the early 2000s, timber harvests have nearly stopped entirely on the national forest, leaving only mature trees with little understory to provide food and cover for deer. At the same time, populations of black bears, coyotes, and bobcats have increased. Declines in deer numbers may be a function of predation, inadequate food availability, or other factors. DNR adjusted hunting seasons to decrease harvest of female deer, however deer numbers have continued to decrease. Additional information is needed to adjust management and improve deer populations.
To investigate deer populations in the mountains of North Georgia, the UGA Deer Lab is partnering with DNR to capture, collar, and study deer on Blue Ridge and Cooper's Creek Wildlife Management Areas. Dr. D'Angelo and Dr. Miller are working with Masters students Adam Edge, Jackie Rosenberger, and Cheyenne Yates to conduct this intensive field study.
Once collared, fawns that survive predation will help us better understand how they select effective escape and hiding cover.
In the North Georgia mountains fawns serve as food for coyotes, bobcats and black bears.
The birth of fawns and their addition to the population over their first year allows deer populations to grow. By studying fawn survival and specific sources of mortality we hope to better understand what might be limiting deer population growth in the mountains. Adam Edge is responsible for this phase of the research. After capturing does, Adam and the team fit them with vaginal implant transmitters (VITs). These VITs emit a radio signal at birth, which allows the research team to locate the birth site. When we capture the resulting fawns, we fit them with VHF telemetry collars and subsequently tract them for as long as the collars stay on them or until they die.
When collared fawns die, the radio signal from the collar changes due to inactivity. Adam tracks the signal to locate the collar and fawn carcass. Evidence on the fawn carcass and clues in the environment around it help to determine if a predator killed the fawn. Using laboratory testing of saliva DNA swabs from carcasses, we can identify the predators responsible for the death of fawns.
Adam also tracks fawns using radio-telemetry to determine what habitats they use. By comparing habitats used by fawns that survive versus those that do not live, we can begin to understand the relationship between habitats, deer, and predators. This information may assist managers in working to increase and enhance habitats important to deer.
A bobcat returns to the location where it previously killed and cached a collared fawn for another meal.
Cheyenne Yates is responsible for 1) evaluating movements and space use of adult female deer and 2) examining occupancy among deer, wild pigs and black bears related to acorn abundance. Her tasks include capturing and GPS collaring adult does, tracking their locations every 4 hours, maintaining a grid of 64 trail cameras, and conducting acorn and vegetation surveys.
Graduate students use a combination of darting, nets and traps to capture deer. The doe in this video was captured in a rocket net.
Cheyenne Yates and Zach Wesner successfully captured and processed a doe. After receiving reversal drugs, the doe will be back on her feet and return to her social group.
Graduate student, Jackie Rosenberger and field technician, Forrest Rosenbower work together to collect blood from a deer they captured.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division funded this important research.
This map demonstrates the movement paths of a GPS-collared doe before (green), during (red) and after (blue) a firearms deer hunt on Blue Ridge WMA.
During fall 2018, 39 deer hunters carried GPS units with them to the woods to help us to better understand the interactions between deer and hunters.
For her graduate research, Jackie Rosenberger is focusing on the deer population in the North Georgia mountains as it relates to hunter participation, behavior and satisfaction. Her study will take place on 2 North Georgia WMAs with the goal of evaluating fine-scale movements of both deer and hunters among pre-hunt, hunt, and post hunt periods. She will compare adult doe movements to factors such as hunting pressure, hunter access points, habitat characteristics, and distance to roads, while also analyzing hunter movements relative to access points and landscape features. She is monitoring precise locations of GPS-collared deer relative to the locations of hunters with hand-held GPS units during firearm deer-hunting seasons. Her research will help determine: 1) if deer actively avoid hunters, 2) if refuge areas currently exist and/or if there is potential to create refuges by limiting hunter access, 3) hunting pressure and distribution of hunters across the WMAs, and thus, the harvest vulnerability of adult does, and 4) the potential to adjust the timing of hunting seasons to minimize negative effects on the fitness of deer (i.e., survival and reproduction). Ultimately, this information will aid managers in their efforts to minimize the effects of hunting on the declining deer population while continuing to provide recreational opportunities for hunters.
Current project status:
During the 2019 deer capture season (January-April), 36 adult female deer were captured, fitted with GPS collars and vaginal implant transmitters and released at the location of their captures. One doe was captured and collared during 2018 and 2019.
In addition, 32 fawns were captured during May 27-July 17. All fawns were fitted with radio collars and released at the location of their capture. Less than 20% of fawns survived their first 12 weeks of life. Fifty-six percent were killed by predators with coyote and bears most often responsible for fawn deaths. Researchers will continue to monitor movements of collared does and survival of collared fawns.