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Extension Agent: Deer spotlight surveys begin next month

July 26, 2011 at 2:26 a.m.


By Brian D. Yanta, Goliad

The Goliad County Wildlife Management Association will conduct its annual spotlight surveys in August. So if you should see what may appear to be "road-hunters" this month, don't take the law into your own hands, you may be shooting at volunteers. If you're suspicious, call the Sheriff's Department, because we always make sure to contact the Game Warden and the Sheriff's Department to let them know that on this day, between these hours, and on these roads, a spotlight survey will be conducted. And let's just say that we have had some experience with "concerned citizens" in the past.

A deer spotlight survey is one of the most commonly used methods for censusing white-tailed deer. It is a method of sampling a given area of land and the density of deer found there. Knowledge of the deer density and herd composition is necessary to regulate annual deer harvest (how many bucks or does to harvest).

Data collected on a deer spotlight survey is expressed as the number of acres per deer. Multiple counts are required on the repeatable route for reliable information on deer density.

Counts usually begin one hour after official sunset, but a route could be counted an hour before sunset, just to see if there is a variance in data collection. Several routes are set up throughout Goliad County.

An area is expressed as the number of visible acres that is determined by taking a series of visibility readings along the designated route at one-tenth mile intervals.

According to Jim Dillard, a technical guidance biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, "a deer spotlight survey is only one part of a comprehensive deer management program that must also include proper habitat management, harvest management and record keeping."

Spotlight surveys are not designed to observe a total deer population, but to sample a representative portion of habitat and the number of deer found there. One of the weaknesses in using spotlight census data is limited applications on small tracts of land or where dense vegetation greatly reduces visibility. This is why county roads are used to survey vast acreage to give a better representation of deer numbers in that given area of the county. This assists the biologist when issuing permits. The landowner can simply show their land holdings on a map, along with their stand count herd composition data, to the biologist, which is sufficient information for the issuance of doe permits.

Spotlight surveys are typically conducted from July 15 through the end of August. Deer are generally well distributed in their home ranges during this period of the year and are more easily identified by sex and age-class.

For more information in possibly setting up your own survey route, or by helping with counting the WMA routes, you can contact the extension office or our technical biologist, Josh Turner.

Brian Yanta is the Goliad County Extension agent.

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