Helicopter Deer Surveys in Texas

Question: “We conducted the yearly helicopter deer survey on our 8,500 acre lease in Maverick County, Texas, a couple of weeks ago. The results were lower than what we had expected. Counted a total of 44 does, 32 fawns, and 54 bucks. The majority of the bucks were deer with 8+ points. In fact, 16 percent of the bucks had 10 or more points and even three 12 point deer were spotted. The alarming number is 130, the total number of deer observed during the helicopter survey.

Our helicopter counts on this ranch usually total at least double, with around 100 bucks and 100 does being counted annually, with fawn numbers fluctuating based on spring and summer habitat conditions. How worried should I be that we observed around half of the deer we normally do? Will this impact our deer management efforts long term and the deer hunting short term? The density showed 1 deer for every 65 acres! The cover is much more dense this year because of the rainfall, but the helicopter deer survey numbers just seem to be way off in left field.

We are aware that helicopter surveys observe an estimated 35-75% of the deer herd, but these numbers are far from the historical numbers. Same survey technique, same time of year. Concerned the deer population is declining on our lease. Any ideas or suggestions on what is happening or are we interpreting our deer survey data correctly?”

Helicopter Deer Surveys in Texas for Deer Hunting and Management

Texas Hunting 411: It is important to remember that no deer survey technique is perfect, including helicopter surveys. They can work well, and many programs swear by them. But the truth is none of them is perfect. There are numerous factors that can impact a count on a given day. The deer density on your ranch may have gone down or even stayed the same. I would be suggest that numbers are down, maybe not as much as you may think.

Addition deer herd information can be collected using game cameras, stand counts and daylight driving surveys. This information can be used to supplement the helicopter survey data. Deer surveys are just one tool in your toolbox as a manager, and a single survey depends on deer movement, habitat conditions and a host of other things. Survey data should be used to mold an overall view of the deer numbers on a property. Compare that information with what you are seeing on the ground and in game camera photos.

If you are very concerned about the whitetail population on your place then the best bet would be to replicate the survey. Another helicopter count may confirm your worries or find that deer numbers were better than you thought. It may be worth it for piece of mind, one way or the other. At least then you can put into the place the property management actions, primarily reduced harvest this deer hunting season. Also, pay attention not only to what you are seeing, but also what you are not seeing. Look for deer skeletons or signs of dead animals. If there was a big deer die-off in your area then the view from the sky will give you a heads-up.

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