I'm currently working as a technician helping out a PhD student at the University of Florida. The study focuses on Whitetail fawn survival rates in areas that manage for coyotes versus areas that don't. This takes place on actively managed quail plantations in Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.
In order to examine fawns, we must first capture pregnant, adult does. We do this with dart guns and nightvision scopes.
On each property we maintain several bait sites with trail cameras. Does come up to the bait sites...we shoot them in the butt. Sounds easy...right?
Wrong. To my surprise, it's actually harder than bow hunting. Our dart guns are limited to about a 20-25 yard range. And even at that range, the heavy metal dart needs to be lobbed. Inside each dart is a tranquilization mixture and a radio transmitter. Once a deer is shot, it usually goes completely insane (if it wasn't already), and runs off about 100-200 yards before falling over. That is unless, of course, you have phenomenal luck...like me.
So far, every deer I've shot has been an oddity. Nothing 'normal' has come of it. Even my first deer of the study ran at least a half mile, through a swamp, and up a hill with a near 90 degree slope before falling down. This wouldn't be -too- much of a hassle if we weren't carrying capture kits, raido telemetry sets, and blankets (to keep them warm).
Finally, assuming nothing's gone wrong (HUGE assumption), we locate the deer. Usually, the deer isn't quite asleep yet, and in order to get it asleep, a blindfold needs to be placed over its face. And that's where the fun begins. They don't let you casually waltz up and stick a
I was very nervous the first time I approached a drugged up deer to tackle her. They just look so...graceful...fragile even. With those spindly legs and small neck, I honestly worried I might break one if I tried to really tackle it. Until I actually grabbed hold of one...
Spindly my ass.
The first doe I pounced on proceeded to stand up (with me on its back), drag me over 10 feet, and kick a hole straight through my jeans. I literally had to bring back my ju-jitsu training, put the deer in a sleeper hold, and secure a body triangle before it finally settled down. Never in a million years did I think I'd use self defense against a deer. But there you have it. They are not fragile...They are ruthless. It's pretty much a guarantee that they'll hurt you long before you ever hurt them. Afterall, these are the animals that can run into the next county with a double lung shot before realizing they're actually dead.
With me being...preoccupied, someone else had to come up and secure the blindfold. What's amazing is that the deer that was doing its best to slay me mere seconds before hand, began to snore the moment the blindfold covered her eyes.
Once the deer is finally asleep, we turn them so that they are sternal. We then insert a VIT (Vaginal Implant Transmitter...use your imagination). These are used so that we can monitor when a doe has given birth. The VIT detects changes in heat and gives off a different signal once a fawn has been born. Later in the summer, it's our job to then go find the fawn and radio collar it. Once the VIT is in place, we secure a radio collar around the doe. Ear tags are then clamped in, and the dart is removed from the deer. After all of this, we monitor the doe to make sure that it stays warm, and wait for it to begin to wake up.
Our darting season will continue for the next few weeks. We have a goal set, and are currently struggling to reach it. It's been shockingly hard to dart these deer and the fact that bucks have begun to lose their antlers makes things even more difficult.
So far I've been enjoying this job more than I can express. I often can't believe I'm getting paid to do it. My lack of blogging has made me rather lazy with the camera, so I've only taken a few pictures while there. Hopefully I will right that wrong in the near future. I have tried several times to take video of some deer tackling with the GoPro, but it doesn't like night time. So the only videos I have contain complete darkness, random flashes of light, hushed expletives, crashing, and the occasional grunt. The camera also gets knocked off of my head with every tackle, so I may convince one of the other techs to wear it next time.
So there you have it. My job in a nutshell. Not only is it something I love, but it also comes with a few perks. I'll get to turkey hunt on one of the areas and I've been given permission on each of the plantations to not only fish, but also shoot every hog I see. And we've seen -alot-. So I'll leave everyone with one last picture...a hint of things to come.
Hog slaying and lots of fishing coming soon. Stay tuned!