September 25, 2023

How Important Is It to Know Exactly How Many Deer There Are?

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I think that sometimes sportsmen get a bit hung up on having to know exactly how many of any game animal exists. I suppose at some level, knowing this makes us feel better…or worse. And, I would also suppose that wildlife biologists also get hung up, perhaps more accurately, cave to the social pressures from outside sources demanding to know precisely how many deer, or other animals, there are.

In a recent letter to the editor of a Connecticut Online newspaper, a writer claims the deer population estimating system being used by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is flawed, but the new Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) survey is accurate. Neither system is completely accurate, but the FLIR may be more accurate than the method being used by DEEP.

It is important to understand what this letter writer is saying. His claim is that by using FLIR the survey determined that in a 60-square-mile area of Connecticut, 689 deer were counted. This calculated out to 11.41 deer per square mile.

By comparison, the old method of estimating deer populations, according to the writer, had the deer population in the same area at 33.5 deer per square mile.

The author claims that this shows the town has lost a lot of deer because of hunting. Huh?

Regardless of how deer are counted or estimated, deer populations realistically do not change only the estimated number. If the DEEP used nothing more than numbers to determine hunting harvest quotas, there might need to be some concern about what was really going on with deer numbers. It would appear, from what I am gathering for information, that this is not the case. As with most fish and game managers, an estimated deer population is used only as a relative measure of deer densities. When managers factor in the realities of what is taking place on the ground and compare that with the baseline deer population estimates, then population management decisions are made.

Instead of getting all upset because a possibly more accurate counting system was employed that determined a closer estimation of the actual deer population, and because that new estimation is much lower than the DEEP estimate, certainly doesn’t mean the town lost all of those deer.

If it is determined that the FLIR counting method is that much more accurate, then there should be a certain amount of celebrating to do because more accurate numbers should make managing a bit easier. However, we should understand that even if the FLIR is more accurate, the estimate given is still just a baseline in which to operate from. The actual number of deer is all relative.

For me personally, the importance I place on knowing what the fish and game department estimates the deer population, is determined by the estimated comparisons from year to the next based upon the same method of estimating deer numbers. When counting methods change and the method continues for many years, then all comparisons must be made only within that counting method.

As a hunter, I base my judgement of deer populations in the areas where I hunt, on what I am able to visually see. If I see more deer and more signs of the presence of deer, I know my opportunities to harvest a deer increase. The reverse of this holds true as well. Is it important to me to know that technology provides more accurate counting? Not really. What is going on in the forests that I hunt is not going to change simply because one method counted more or less deer.

Each state’s fish and game biologists will make management and deer harvest decisions based on many things. An accurate counting system should make the task a bit easier. Poor management will result in lost opportunities for hunters, not how accurate estimation are.