We turned off the blacktop and followed a hilly, winding gravel road for several miles through desolate northwestern Kansas farm country, eventually parking along the road across from a wheat field at about 11 PM. We accompanied 2 other vehicles driven by collage students who are out there working on the first year of a 3 year comprehensive deer research project underway in 8 northwestern Kansas counties. Just like in the National Geographic documentaries, one guy carried a small antennae connected to a GPS unit. With headlamps and flashlights we followed the signal across the wheat field in pursuit of a newly born fawn. A transmitter inserted into a doe during the first part of the study back in February had been activated, signaling she had given birth just a couple hours ago, and we were out to find her new fawn.

Around 300 meters into the field the lead group spooked a doe, and we found an area of wheat a few feet across that was totally flattened where the doe had given birth. After a short search, being very careful not to accidently step on the new arrival, we found the tiny fawn rolled into a tight little ball amongst the wheat stalks with its head tucked in against its body and not moving a muscle just like God had programmed it to do. The night air was chilly, and the wheat was wet from a rain shower, so after some quick measurements, an ear tag designating the little female mule deer as number 7729, and a GPS collar of its own, we quietly backed out so the mom could come back and take care of her new fawn.
A couple months ago I wrote about this deer study, and Joyce and I got hooked-up to spend a couple days helping search for fawns. The research hopes to show why mule deer in Kansas are slowly receding westward and why whitetails are taking their place. In February, 120 deer, an even mix of bucks and does, mule deer and whitetails, were netted from helicopters and collared with GPS collars. The does were taken to another spot and each given a sonogram. The sonogram showed that the mother of #7729 was pregnant with triplets, but because of the wet, chilly night air, the kids thought it best to end the search after finding only the first fawn so the mother could get back to them and keep them safe and warm.

The 3 year study is funded by the KS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, but all the kids working there from Scott City are college students from Pennsylvania. Talescha Karish is working toward a PHD in Biology, Maureen Kinlan is pursuing a masters degree in biology, Luke Benzinger is working toward a bachelors degree in wildlife and fisheries science and Steven Abrahamson is pursuing an associate’s degree in biology. Each plans to work in the field of wildlife management somehow.

Capturing and collaring the adult deer and finding and collaring their fawns is just part of the project. Fawns will be sought until data shows all does have given birth, then each fawn will be tracked every day for 10 weeks, after which female fawns will be put on a schedule to locate them once per week and male fawns will not be tracked anymore as fawns. When not tracking fawns and their mothers, the students will be gathering data on vegetation and habitat where GPS tracking shows the deer to have been. Each week their computer randomly selects a GPS coordinate where a doe has physically stood. They will locate that exact spot and measure and assess the vegetation and habitat there. While there, the computer selects another random point within 300 meters of the first spot and the habitat and vegetation are also assessed there. This is done weekly for each collared doe. I have to say we were amazed at the amount of data being collected by these kids, and by the amount of work it takes and the lengths they are taking to do so.

In March when I first wrote about the beginning of this project, I interviewed Levi Jaster, Big Game Coordinator with the Kansas Dept of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, who told me that the nearest studies about deer mortality rates, habitat use and reproduction rates have been done in either Texas or the Dakota’s, neither of which have topography or habitat representative of Kansas, and that a coordinated lengthy study of Kansas deer was long overdue. I don’t know what all motivates these college students to spend their summer 5 states away from their homes and families to help the Kansas Dept of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and all us Kansas deer hunters better understand our deer, but sign me up for a dose of whatever it is. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com.