Game & Fish will be counting mule deer from the sky

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – On clear days, expect the skies to be buzzing with spotter choppers as Wyoming Game and Fish Department conducts extensive aerial surveys over the next couple of weeks. The department is hoping to get a more accurate count on the number of mule deer in the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Herd.

Wildlife biologist Jeff Short records GPS coordinates during aerial survey. (Lucy Wold, WGFD)

The surveys will involve two helicopters flying over the foothills and deer winter ranges on the east side of the Wyoming Range, winter range complexes north and southwest of Kemmerer, and west side of the Salt River Range in Star Valley. Residents in rural communities may see personnel conducting these helicopter flights in quick “fly-overs” as mule deer are counted. Of course, every precaution will be taken to avoid disturbance to people and livestock.

Mule deer populations have been in decline across western North America, and WGFD is committed to doing all they can to reverse the downward trend. As part of the statewide Wyoming Mule Deer Initiative, the Game and Fish identified certain mule deer herds to focus on, including the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Herd.

Sightability surveys are more accurate way of assessing big game population. (Lucy Wold, WGFD)

Helicopter surveys are commonly used to estimate population size and composition of big game herds like mule deer, elk, and moose. Helicopters allow biologists to count animals in areas where roads are sparse and to survey large areas more efficiently and accurately. This mule deer sightability survey is a more comprehensive survey that determines the number of mule deer surveyors may be missing from the air due to cover and deer behavior and ultimately provides a more accurate estimate of how many deer there are.

This sightability survey is a scientifically accepted method that has been used for many years throughout the United States and Canada. Data from the survey gives wildlife managers an “anchor” for future population models and allows wildlife managers to better track trends in the herds. Sightability surveys are costly and time consuming, but the WGFD is committed to obtaining the most accurate data to guide future management decisions.

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