Deer hunters’ group initiates hunter observation survey
Members of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association are being asked to log their observations of deer and other wildlife while they hunt this fall. The 15,000-member organization has launched a Deer Hunter Observation Survey, asking its members to ...
Members of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association are being asked to log their observations of deer and other wildlife while they hunt this fall.
The 15,000-member organization has launched a Deer Hunter Observation Survey, asking its members to report the number of deer, black bear, elk, moose, coyotes, wolves and other animals they see while hunting.
“It’s not research. It’s data,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of the group, based in Grand Rapids. “It takes a lot of time for data to make sense. One year isn’t going to mean anything. It will be several years before it means anything, and then it will be correlations, not research.”
The survey is modeled after similar hunter-observation efforts in Iowa and Wisconsin. Iowa’s Bowhunter Observation Survey was started in 2004. It’s a cooperative project with Iowa State University.
Johnson said the observations of the association’s hunters will be shared with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“We think hunter observations are important,” Johnson said. “People want to be part of making things better.”
He concedes that the DNR has been cool to the idea of using hunter observations as a deer-management tool, but MDHA sees a value in sharing the information.
“There are areas where the DNR could use this to calibrate or verify some of their research,” Johnson said. “Are hunters really seeing in the field what the DNR thinks is happening?”
DNR officials, who have worked with MDHA over the years on various issues, say they don’t believe the casual observations of hunters are useful in determining deer management strategies.
“It’s just not that valuable of a tool to determine trends,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. “We’d look at it pretty cautiously.”
MDHA persuaded the DNR to provide funding for last winter’s emergency deer feeding program in Northeastern Minnesota, although DNR wildlife officials said they didn’t believe deer feeding was of value on a landscape scale. Wildlife officials also had concerns that concentrating deer could spread disease.
The DNR and MDHA served as co-hosts for last winter’s “deer listening sessions,” seeking public input about deer populations. Many hunters at those sessions expressed concern that the deer population is too low.
Mike Larson, DNR Forest Wildlife Population and Research Group leader in Grand Rapids, was asked if he thought hunter observation data could be helpful in deer management.
“It’s not immediately obvious to me how they might judge a deer population or density in a permit area with this data,” Larson said. “We have scientists and statisticians who help us design data so it’s the most representative and most valid and most unbiased. The less that a data collection effort follows a rigorous design, the less reliable they might be for certain uses.”
However, hunter observations might be useful in determining the range of a particular species, Larson said.
MDHA members are asked to visit the group’s website, mndeerhunters.com, to participate in the survey.