Overall it was an eye-opening experience to get hands-on experience with this kind of work. It's truly amazing how much we stand to learn about mule deer with these kinds of studies. After the two days we had captured and gathered data on 72 deer and had a zero capture mortality rate.
The Wyoming Range in western Wyoming is home to one of the largest, most coveted, and beloved populations of mule deer in North America. All of us here at Stone Glacier enjoy hunting mule deer, learning more about them, and trying to understand better what impacts their life decisions and overall health. Early this year, we were contacted by Kevin Monteith about the unique work they have been doing as they study long term effects on mule deer in the Wyoming Range. In short, Monteith Shop (@monteith.shop), in collaboration with agency partners, has been working to understand multiple aspects of mule deer ecology to inform on-the-ground management, conservation, and policy of mule deer since 2013. They had invited us to come to join in a mule deer doe capture as they would be gathering critical data for their studies. Three of our team, Taylor D'Agostino, Colby Adamek, and Zack Boughton would be heading down to join the Monteith crew.
The first morning we met up with Kevin and got a little more info about their work before the helicopter showed up with our first deer of the day. Their project is named the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Project. It is a multi-faceted research project that works to provide solutions for immediate management concerns, as well as answer foundational questions in wildlife ecology. The research centers primarily on tracking mule deer throughout their lives, while assessing their nutritional condition, movement, habitat use, and survival, among other elements. Through this longitudinal research design, the Monteith Shop evaluates influential factors that might change throughout an animal’s life, and further, across generations; the long-term nature of this work reveals trends and relationships that are obscured through regular, short-term studies. Indeed, this one-of-a-kind project has begun to develop a comprehensive understanding of how the connections individual deer have with their environments ultimately influence population dynamics of our cherished mule deer herds.
During the two days that we had the privilege to join the Monteith Shop, we became part of a well-oiled machine as we cared for recently captured animals—some of which had been a part of the study since 2013! We monitored animals closely, collected all sorts of data, including animal body mass, overall size, and we swapped collars and replaced batteries on the collars. The team used ultrasonography to evaluate how fat an animal was. It even used it to evaluate if animals were pregnant, how many fawns they were carrying if they were pregnant, and how large the fawns were in utero.
Finally, for those that were pregnant, a device known as a vaginal implant transmitter was fit for each female. The device communicates with the collar, and when it is expelled at birth, it alerts mom’s collar, which then sends a notification via satellite to the researchers. The team immediately mobilizes, locates the birthsite, and captures the newborn fawns to allow monitoring of their survival and growth thereafter. The process was an incredible mixture of careful animal care, detailed and comprehensive data collection, sophisticated technology, and fluid teamwork. Some of the stories from certain animals that had either gone on some incredible journeys (F210), whose story has been told by the team in a documentary film (Deer 139 - see below) and was pregnant with triplets, to animals that have been captured nearly a dozen times and have yielded an incredible duration of data made the experience that much more intimate.
Overall it was an eye-opening experience to get hands-on experience with this kind of work. It's truly amazing how much we stand to learn about mule deer with these kinds of studies. After the two days, we had captured and gathered data on 72 deer and had a zero capture mortality rate. We were beaten up, wrangling deer is not always easy, and their hooves are sharp, but pumped, we had taken the time to come down and assist and begin having a closer connection to the on-the-ground conservation work that is going on across the West.
Learn More about Mule Migration - Deer 139
About Monteith Shop
Kevin and his graduate students are currently conducting research on most of Wyoming’s large ungulates; topics are centered on establishing a protocol for habitat-based, sustainable management of ungulate populations, while investigating the effects of predation, habitat alteration, climate change, migration strategies, disease, growth, and novel disturbance through the lens of nutrition.
Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Dept. 3166, 1000 East University Avenue
University of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyoming 82071
Monteith Shop Website