ELBA — Shotgun, shells, food, hot liquids, chair, warm clothes, notebook and pen.
Yup, I was ready for a recent antlerless deer hunt.
The final item on my gear list was unusual but needed to record GPS, weather and what I saw for certain game animals. It’s a new thing, one I needed to help the Department of Natural Resources learn more about deer.
For the past three years, the DNR sent bow hunters a card asking them to report what they saw and what they shot.
Response was poor, said Eric Michel, a DNR ungulate research scientist. This season “we are opening up wide, open to everybody,” he said.
It’s more than just a card to fill out when we’ve done for the year. Instead, we are being asked to fill out a rather detailed survey after each day’s hunt, two in a day if we move a long ways.
It works by going to www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/deer/management/deer-hunter-field-log.html and going to the questionaire. You will be asked a lot of detailed questions, including GPS, weather, what deer you saw, if you harvested a deer, size of antlers for bucks and if you saw some other game species such as grey fox and wild turkeys.
You can fill them out on your cell phone. Michel said that is one of the beauties of the ubiquitous phones. When you get back to your vehicle, take five minutes and pop in data. The phone makes it “a lot easier for us to interact with hunters,” he said.
The bow hunter survey began following a 2016 report from the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor requesting more checks of the population model used to estimate deer populations for each deer permit area, according to the DNR. The observation surveys are a way to compare hunter-provided data with DNR population estimates.
“Our deer population model gives us good numbers, but we still like to check those against what hunters and wildlife managers are seeing on the ground. It’s another way to add confidence to the whole system,” Michel said.
“That is really our base goal, to increase our base rate,” he said. “We need more indices.”
One big variable they need to know more about it recruitment, like number of fawns following a doe. “That is something we are really lacking right now,” Michel said.
The DNR needs those numbers to get better at setting population goals for each deer permit area, he said, and then set regulations to reach those goals.
The second objective is to give hunters a chance to help, he said. “One of the biggest things is active participation in deer management,” he said.
He stressed that the DNR only wants information while we’re actually hunting. It doesn’t want deer we see flash across our lights when you’re heading out to hunt, not when scouting, not something our buddies said they saw a few miles away, or the otters I saw trout fishing a few days before.
He wants us recording “at the most natural movements” when we’re in the woods.
While a lot of work has been done finding how deer move, relying on radio-collared deer, these new data could offer hunters and researchers more insights into deer habits, he said.
With notebook and pen, I hunted part of Friday, Oct. 16, and Saturday, Oct. 17, in one area near Elba and moved a bit on Sunday.
I found looking around for part of the study was actually kind of interesting. It gave me something else to think around, another reason to be out in the woods, a way I might help researchers figure out the best seasons and limits for deer and other game animals.
On Saturday, I hunted in two places but because they were so close, Michel said to call it one hunt. I saw only a red fox and a lot of squirrels but grey fox and squirrels aren't on the list of game animals seen.
On Sunday, I moved far enough that I needed new GPS coordinates, easy to get on the cell phone.
I set up overlooking an open bowl and waited. I looked down for a few moments and when I looked up, there were four deer -- all antlerless.
My shotgun was down, however. I slowly tried to raise it and shift in my chair but the deer knew something was amiss because they saw me move. I couldn’t raise the gun and I began to stare, trying to figure out what they were for the survey.
I could see one deer was bigger than the fawn that stood next to it but was that a doe with triplets? The doe didn’t seem big enough and the other two seemed to be a separate family unit, maybe another young doe and few.
Finally, they spooked. The questionnaire does have a space for uncertain which is what I put down -- one adult doe and three uncertain deer. It’s not perfect but it’s the best I could judge.
After a while, I walked around slowly. Suddenly, three large birds got up from the wood and flew away. Ah ha! Three wild turkeys, I added them to my notebook.
At home Sunday evening, I entered all the data for the three days, relying not on memory, which can get sketchy, but on the notes.
It wasn’t a huge step forward. But it was something.
John Weiss has written and reported about Outdoors topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 40 years. He is the author of the book "Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss"