WYOMING – It was March 2016 when Game and Fish personnel captured 20 doe mule deer near Lander and outfitted them with GPS tracking collars. As the collars reached the end of their battery life, they were triggered to release and were dropped in November 2017.
For the 20 months they were worn, the collars collected vital data on where these mule deer wandered. Each collar collected an average of over 5,300 locations, and provided some eye-opening information. The challenge would be finding them all.
Retrieval of the dropped collars was an adventure scavenger hunt for staff. The first collar was found near Mexican Creek where it was noted the healthy vegetation in the area should provide some good feed this winter. On that trip a huge Douglas fir with an old cached deer carcass and an aspen with old bear claw scars were interesting finds to discover as well.
A Beaver Rim area collar was found where few deer summer and the shrubs in the area appeared to be in poor shape as if heavily browsed. Further investigations this spring can hopefully provide answers to the poor habitat conditions.
A Red Canyon collar dropped in an area where the main shrub is one biologists don’t think of mule deer typically eating. It was an evergreen called snowbush ceanothus. The snowbush looked to have been heavily browsed. One local hunter also reported seeing deer eating this same species for a two-week period.
Lastly, a collar dropped in Skull Gulch near Twin Creek brought with it a long-tailed weasel already in his full white coat without any snow yet on the ground (Dec. 3).
Many of collared deer spent the last year and a half in almost the same area they were caught. Others, though, moved quite a distance between winter and summer habitats. The longest distance any of the deer moved was about 35 miles from Beaver Creek/Beaver Rim area to the upper Sweetwater River near South Pass.
Coupling all the collar data with some of the on-the-ground habitat observations will give WGFD biologists and wardens some extra things to ponder this winter.