December 1, 2022

If You Have No Intention to Count Live Deer, Why Bother to Count Dead Ones


More Proof That the Scientific Method Has Gone to Hell

I just finished reading an article in which the author claims that utilizing “spotlight surveys” to count deer is a “waste of resources.” Spotlight surveys are when an individual or a biologist sets up cameras in the forest in order to “spot” deer, identify them and try to determine how many deer inhabit a prescribed area. The author states that the information from these cameras is so inconsistent that the data becomes useless. I’m not so sure one can make such a broad, sweeping statement completely disregarding the tool and what information is gleaned from the equipment, if they don’t know the processes used by all spotlight surveys. I’m also left with some puzzling questions that need to be asked, along with seeking who, if anyone anymore, has even the basic knowledge of the scientific process.

The author explains why the data taken from spotlight surveys can be so variable it may become useless, and I sort of, almost, tend to agree. But there’s a lot more to this than is being discussed. Let’s look at the bigger picture first.

The author says that deer biologists wrongly state that, “…[deer] density estimates are a requisite for good deer management.” And further states this to be a fallacy and without explanation. I, like probably a few million other deer hunters in America, would like to know how any biologist, or group of such, can responsibly “manage” a deer herd if they don’t have a solid idea of about how many deer they are dealing with. This population estimate must go beyond just a simple statewide guesstimate. It should be broken up into the smallest wildlife management areas as is practical. This increases accuracy.

If we continue with the belief that deer populations are an important and integral part of deer management, then the honest question will become, “Do deer managers ever exactly know how many deer are at any point at any time?” Of course they don’t. But how precise are they in their guesstimate?

One thing most of us understand is that, generally speaking, the more precise we want to be in knowing deer numbers, the more money needs to be spent to do that. However, please understand that most tactics used to count or estimate are riddled with poor scientific method.

Before I get into poor scientific method, I did want to point out something that was written in the article about the author knowing that spotlight surveys were inaccurate…at best. The first question I had about that was how does he know that? To make a statement this bold, one must know the number of deer there actually are. Otherwise, how then can one state the other information is wrong and at what percentage of the time it is wrong?

This information is not provided so can we, or do we, assume that within a test area, procedures were undertaken in which an “exact” count of deer was taken and then was compared to what the spotlight surveys said? If that is factual, imagine attempting to do this statewide in Texas. It easily becomes cost prohibitive. Therefore, it is the reason shortcuts of estimating deer populations have been employed.

Are they accurate? As the old saying goes, garbage in – garbage out. Or it’s only as good as its weakest link.

Maine is in the midst of deer and moose studies. A few years ago, as they began the studies, they began aerial counts, while boasting of how accurate these fly-overs were. Are they? Perhaps in comparison to other methods but don’t bet your farm on the results.

Let’s return to basic science. I remember in 7th Grade the first thing I learned in order to be able to honestly assess and obtain useless data was that all things must be consistent – never changing. In other words, if biologists are doing aerial counts for deer, each time they go up, it must be identical to the last time they went up and the time before that, etc. If it’s 10 or 20 years between aerial counts, all effort must be made to do things exactly as they were done before.

I have spoken with pilots and counters in the past. They explained to me that aerial counting presents a bunch of problems that few people can understand. All stated that the most important aspect to aerial counting is the relationship between the pilot and the counter(s). Each time managers fly, is it always the same counter and same pilot? Is it even the same plane or helicopter (think noise or size)? Is the weather and visibility, in the air and on the ground, the exact as before? Does the aircraft fly at the exact same altitude? And these are some of the obvious questions.

Does this mean that we throw the baby out with the bathwater? No, it means that without this basic understanding of consistency, then how reliable is any information collected which translates into poor and inaccurate determinations? The more “scientific” the process, the more accurate the results. Surely we can all agree on that. One of the problems that exists with those who argue in support of global warming, is that scientists keep changing the locations of test equipment and the processes they are using to collect the data.

Let’s return to the spotlight surveys for a moment. According to information provided in the article, the author makes statements which leads one to believe that enough work and collection of data was done that he was able to tell readers that spotlight surveys only “averaged” accuracy about 41% of the time. Again I ask, how did he arrive at that conclusion?

It is stated that there was inconsistency in the use of the cameras, i.e. locations changing, observers, equipment, etc. If the spotlight surveys were set up and run with a consistent scientific process, employing the utmost in consistent testing, can that 41% be raised to something higher? I believe it can.

Once again, assuming that deer populations are important to know and that there is no real way to ever exactly know deer populations, on a wider scale than just 20 or 30 acres, deer population estimates then become an estimation based on known values. The more consistent the testing for known values becomes, the more accurate the estimating then becomes.

If enough research was done to establish a solid 50% accuracy rate with spotlight surveys, then employing surveys as part of the process, doesn’t it all become relative? In other words, if the data at this moment in time is good data that tells me that my spotlight surveys are consistently giving me deer estimates that are 50% below actual, how then is the employment of spotlight surveys a waste of time and resources?

If the deer managers industry is or soon will be, employers of the notion that it is a fallacy that good deer management doesn’t require a good handle on the population, then none of this any longer matters – there soon will be no deer left. But, how would they know this?


Maine Counts 111 Dead Deer a Day

Okay, here’s some more whine! If Maine deer hunters shoot 20,000 deer a season, and it takes the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) 6 months (180 days) to count the registered deer and then tell the public, then MDIFW counts 111.111 deer a day.

In comparison, Wisconsin’s gun deer season just ended, with a harvest reported of 79,429 deer and it was reported to the press in three days. Officials there counted 26,476 deer a day. Maine should be able to count the entire harvest in one day!

Maine: Life in the Slow Lane!


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

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.


Counting Deer: Count Bucks, It’s Kind of the Best Way…Sort of…Maybe

When NPR asked a New Hampshire deer biologist how they went about guessing how many deer the state had, the answer was…well, it was…actually, I don’t know what the hell it was. But the response went like this:

For deer, this is the two-year running average of the adult buck-kill. That’s kind of what we use as an index to the trend in the population. That’s kind of the best index we have.

And that’s it? Go figure. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong but I have a strong suspicion that deer hunting in New Hampshire, and probably Maine and Vermont, generate the most income in order to fund each state’s fish and (no game, just) wildlife departments. And, this is the best explanation a deer biologist from New Hampshire could come up with to explain how counting deer is done.

Is it important to know how many deer each state has? Geez! I would think so. If you don’t know, how do you know how many deer should be killed each year? Is this one of the reasons deer populations in Northern New England are struggling? Maybe. Ask any biologist though and they’ll probably say it’s being caused by global warming. But let’s not get into that.

One might conclude that New Hampshire’s “model” of guessing is pretty pathetic. What it sounds to me that they do, is count the number of adult bucks harvested during the hunting season for two consecutive years. They use that data to somehow wave a magic wand and then after repeating the “magic” incantations, guess how many deer there are. That’s sad…isn’t it?

If you think that’s sad, then how damned sad is it when a state can’t even count to know how many adult buck deer were taken during a deer hunting season? That’s beyond sad. It’s down right pathetic.

As of this morning, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), has not posted on their website the harvest numbers from last November’s deer hunting season. God, we’ve all been down this road so many times, but nothing ever changes.

Some have asked me what difference does it make? I think it makes a lot of difference. Seriously, do I need to explain why? But forget what I think or whether you care. If Maine uses anything like New Hampshire’s methods, and they count adult buck deer killed to guesstimate deer populations, how can they responsibly manage deer – like how many “Any-Deer Permits” to issue if they can’t count deer?

So, I can only guess what is going on. Either MDIFW is terrible at managing deer or they won’t release the deer harvest numbers because they are hiding something. What else could it be? And, as an aside, MDIFW hasn’t posted the bear harvest data either.

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin’d.
Harpier cries:—’tis time! ’tis time!
Round about the caldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.



Helpful Hint to Maine Fish and Game on Counting Deer and Bear Harvests

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock……….



Maine Aerial Surveys Finding Moose

In an article in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Mark Latti, the Landowner Relations/ Recreational Access Coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, says the Department (MDIFW) is doing aerial surveys on moose for the third year in a row. The excitement seems high, and perhaps if the people doing the actual flying and counting do it enough, they will obtain enough experience to increase the value of their data. In speaking with experienced fliers, I have been told that it takes years of experience and coordination between pilots and counters, regardless of methods, to obtain reliable data.

In the meantime, mum’s the word I guess in aerial surveys for deer. I suppose it’s a waste of time to try to count something that doesn’t exist.




Record Bear Season? But What About the Deer?

The Seacoast Online is reporting that Maine will have a record-breaking bear hunting season. Wonderful! I hope they kill around 10,000 of them.

Maine hunting guides are telling state game officials that 2012 will go down in the record books as one of the best years ever to hunt bears in the state.

We know the cause for big bears being taken is because there is no natural food to eat. It has been explained to Maine citizens by wildlife officials, that when there is a shortage of natural food to eat, bears will eat early, get fat early and den up early. I’m not sure on what food source they eat early and fatten up early on if there isn’t any, other than a handful of bait sites. There appears to be no other explanation for a supposed record bear season other than lack of natural food.

Maine officials seem to confidently state that the state has a population of 31,000 black bears, all of which will apparently eat early, fatten up early and den early. I’ve yet to find this information in scientific studies but I’m still searching.

In the Seacoast article, it states that guides are seeing record numbers of bears as well as big fat bears. It is probably a waste of my time to argue about why the bears are fat right now, but there is little to dispute that there is a record number of bear in Maine at present. And there’s little to dispute that because of such, the bears are taking a toll on the deer population by targeting deer fawns soon after the bears come out of hibernation.

With little interest in reducing the bear herd, from officials and guides, the protection of one species at the expense of another is the order of business it would appear. This kind of thinking is akin to the predator protectors and animal rights perverts.

We are told that moose, of which the state officially boasts 76,000 of them (a record more than likely), compete with the whitetail deer for habitat and food resources and yet the state fails to offer more moose tags to keep the population in check and to give the deer a break at a time they need it most.

And bear kill deer fawns and adult deer if they can ambush them.

Again I repeat, Maine wildlife officials seem to have a firm grasp on the number of moose and bear that there are but can’t nail down anything better than a rough estimate on the deer population. Maybe that fact all by itself partly or mostly explains why the deer herd has gone to hell in a hand basket.

So long as Maine officials and guides fail to place the salvage of the deer population on a higher priority than it currently is, i.e. taking a back seat to bear and moose, the chances are slim and none that the deer will recover. If they do, it will be only by happenstance of weather and climate conditions.

Jokingly, I reported that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) was going to use “Black Bear Crows” to count deer as officials couldn’t seem to come up with any firm numbers from flying with helicopters and counting them. As one reader told me, “Using a mythological “black bear crow” to count deer isn’t any more far fetched than MDIFW coming up with an accurate deer count anytime soon.”