In the US, white-tailed deer were originally transported to restore populations that were “shot out” during the early 20th century. Today, land managers continue to move deer from one area to another, but not just to restore populations. The driving force behind today’s deer translocations is primarily twofold: to augment low-density deer populations and to promote genetic improvement. However, a third option for translocation is an alternative to harvest — to manage overabundant populations; remove deer found in high deer-density urban areas, transport them, and release them elsewhere.
But regardless of why deer are moved, how do they cope? What is the survival rate and performance of transported deer after they are “liberated” at their release site? These are good questions and a study out of Texas A&M University-Kingsville hopes to answer them. We know that for a translocation program to be successful we need two things, a high survival of released deer and for the animals to remain in the area where they were released. Without achieving these two objectives, the overall goal will not be met.
The study was simple — the researchers set out to track free-ranging deer that were captured and released. However, before releasing the deer they fitted the deer with radio transmitters. A total of 59 white-tailed deer from two different capture sites were fitted with transmitters and moved to two different ranches. One group of 20 deer was transported over 150 miles to a release site and another group of 29 was released just shy of 50 miles from their capture site.
So what happened?
Survival was right at 78% after 6 months, so roughly 4 out of every 5 released deer were still alive, but that doesn’t mean the remainder were still on site. Of the deer that were still alive after 6 months, 23% of those animals left! Yep, an average of only 60% of the transported deer were both alive and in their respective target area after release. Of course, I should also mention that the release sites were not game fenced, high fenced, etc.
In short, the findings from this study show that simply bringing deer from one area to another is not a static thing, even short-term. Fifty deer in does not mean a net gain of 50 deer — even in game fenced areas. Deer are quite adaptable, but the data suggests that the trapping and moving of deer is quite traumatic for the animal. Physical injuries and stress from translocation likely impact immediate and short-term survival, but the stocking of deer does work. Deer managers have known this for some time, but this study puts a number on both survival and retention of stocked deer.