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DNR, GDOT and UGA Continue Bear Research in Central Georgia

By: Bobby Bond, Georgia DNR wildlife biologist

UGA bear researchers collaring a sow bear in a den.

UGA bear researchers collaring a sow bear in a den.

In 2012, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (UGA) partnered to begin an extensive research project on black bears in central Georgia, the state’s smallest population of bears.  This scientific effort was initiated by GDOT’s need to examine the potential impacts of the pending Highway 96 expansion on black bear movements.  This provided WRD the opportunity to join the research process without having to fund an entire project alone.  Previous WRD research on black bears in middle Georgia occurred from 2003-2006; however, questions remained related to various aspects of the central Georgia black bear population.  Specifically, more information on reproductive ecology (female denning, litter size, recruitment, effects of burning, etc.) and population parameters was needed.

Since May 2012, UGA has monitored the movement patterns of more than 40 black bears in central Georgia using GPS tracking collars.  Advanced technologies are allowing researchers to locate black bears at a rate as intense as 1 location every 5 minutes.  This fine-scale location data is providing insight on how these bears move in relation to Highway 96 between Bonaire, Ga. and Interstate 16.  This data also allows researchers to evaluate habitat use across the range of the central Georgia black bear population.

Of the 18 female black bears UGA has monitored in 2014, three (3) had newborn cubs in the den, seven (7) did not produce young this year, and eight (8) females from 2013 should still have yearlings with them from 2013.  It’s also noteworthy that 2 of the 3 females that produced cubs in 2014 also produced cubs in 2013 but lost those cubs and thus re-bred.  During 2013, litter size averaged 1.9 cubs/litter, whereas during 2014 the average litter size was 1.6 cubs/litter.  Typically black bears give birth to around 2 cubs and raise them until they are 2 years old.  Litter sizes of 3-4 bears are not typical but do occur.  However, most of those larger litters will result in only 1-2 cubs being recruited into the population.  Therefore, most black bears only produce cubs every 2-3 years.

GPS locations of a male black bear from its capture (June 2012) to when the GPS collar dropped off (October 2012).  This black bear covered 20 miles straight line distance from its two furthest points (Tarversville in Twiggs County and Clinchfield Cement Plant in Houston County).

GPS locations of a male black bear from its capture (June 2012) to when the GPS collar dropped off (October 2012). This black bear covered 20 miles straight line distance from its two furthest points (Tarversville in Twiggs County and Clinchfield Cement Plant in Houston County).

Part of this ongoing study was to estimate the population size.  Knowing the exact population size is not necessary and is fiscally and logistically unattainable.  Wildlife biologists use scientific techniques to monitor a variety of biological aspects of a wildlife population and how these indices inform changes in the population.  This is why we use estimated population sizes and indices to manage wildlife populations.  The portion of the study to estimate the size of the bear population used barbed wire hair snares and capture-recapture techniques to estimate the number of bears in central Georgia.  UGA researchers constructed 129 hair snares throughout the study area (from south of the Houston County Landfill to I-16 in Twiggs County) that were baited.  Hair snares were checked weekly for 2 months during the summers of 2012 and 2013, and more than 6,000 hair samples were collected for DNA analysis.  Initial modeling results estimate the central Georgia bear population to number ~150 individuals.  However, this is only after one year of data collection.  A better estimate will be available in the future after a few more years of data collection.  Typically, wildlife models get better with additional data.

The next phase of the project will be to move the population estimate research to north of I-16 in Twiggs and Wilkinson counties, primarily to determine relative bear numbers in that portion of the state.

Categories: Conservation, Hunting

How Wildlife is Thriving Thanks to Firearms and Hunting

Here’s a pretty cool infographic from the National Shooting Sports Foundation highlighting just how much the hunting and firearms communities contribute to wildlife conservation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers all contribute a great deal to conservation, and as always, we can’t thank you enough. You make wildlife conservation possible in Georgia!

How Wildlife is Thriving Because of Guns & Hunting

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
Categories: Conservation, Hunting

Determining the Rut

By: John Bowers, Georgia DNR Chief of Game Management and Charlie Killmaster, Georgia DNR state deer biologist; with info provided by Bobby Bond, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist

The timing of the rut, or breeding season, is of keen interest to many hunters and managers of white-tailed deer. Generalizations and errant conclusions are often made based on single observations of specific activities observed such as a buck chasing a doe, or a single deer visiting a scrape or making a rub. While these are certainly important reproductive related behaviors that can be observed, they are not objective assessments of determining the peak or length of the rut in white-tailed deer.  It’s important to understand the basics of the rut!

fetus scale for white-tailed deer

The fetuses shown here returned November 12, 2013 as the date of conception, coinciding well with the known rut for this region of the state (early-mid November).

The primary trigger for breeding in white-tailed deer is the photoperiod.  Photoperiod refers to the duration that a plant or animal is exposed to light within a 24-hour period. In the fall, shortening day length reduces the photoperiod and this triggers several physiological and behavioral changes in white-tailed deer that initiate breeding. Yet, photoperiod is not exclusively responsible for the timing of the rut. Photoperiod opens a “window” during which breeding can occur.  How long that window remains open is determined by other factors, such as nutrition and herd demographics.  For example, does in poor condition from inadequate nutrition may delay or forgo breeding. Areas with imbalanced sex ratios (e.g., too many does to bucks) or skewed age structures (e.g., young buck age structure) can result in lengthy, or prolonged, breeding seasons.  Prolonged breeding seasons can have several undesirable affects including reduced buck survival and a prolonged fawning season that can reduce fawn survival due to malnutrition, predation or exposure.  Properly managed deer herds with balanced sex ratios and improved age structures have shorter breeding seasons with intense rutting behaviors, increased competition for breeding and enhanced hunting opportunities.  Poorly managed herds with sex ratios skewed toward does and imbalanced buck age structures often lack these desired opportunities.

Wildlife biologists scientifically determine the breeding period for white-tailed deer using a fetus scale, which is a specially designed “ruler” that allows biologists and managers to determine fetus age in days.  Deer fetuses are collected from does harvested late in the deer season after the rut has occurred. It is important to note the harvest date of the doe from which the fetus(es) was collected.  Armed with the fetal age and the harvest date of the doe, a biologist can determine the date of conception.  When this data is collected from numerous does within a hunting season, biologists can determine the range, or length, of the breeding season (determined by the earliest and latest bred does) and the peak of breeding (usually a 7-10 day period when the majority of does were bred).  By “forward” dating, biologists can determine the length of parturition (birthing or fawning) and the peak of fawn drop.

This method allows biologists to scientifically determine the rut and this scientific information is an important consideration in managing white-tailed deer and informing policy and regulatory decisions for establishing biologically appropriate hunting seasons.  It can also be important for hunting clubs and managers to add this data collection tool to their arsenal so they can “fine-tune” management decisions for the properties they manage and hunt.

This photo shows four fetuses collected by Ms. York of York’s Deer Processing in Barnesville (Lamar County). They are from a single doe that was harvested on January 1, 2014.  Wildlife biologist Bobby Bond aged the fetuses on a fetus scale (shown in the photo).  They were aged at 50 days old.  Back dating from Jan. 1 returns November 12, 2013 as the date of conception, which coincides well with known rut for this region of the state (early-mid Nov.).   Also, using the scale, the day of parturition would have occurred in about 148 more days or on May 29, 2014.  Interesting, Mrs. York also previously provided us with a picture of 5 fetuses from a single doe the year before!

It should be noted that adult does in good condition typically give birth to twins.  Occasionally, very healthy does can give birth to triplets.  It’s rare that an adult doe will successfully carry three or more fetuses to full term. Even though a doe may conceive three (3) or more fetuses, one (1) or more of the fetuses are unlikely to survive in-utero and will be reabsorbed.

It’s Turkey Time! Season Begins Tomorrow, March 22

Wildlife biologist Kevin Lowrey provides his outlook for Georgia’s 2014 Turkey Season, as well as data from past seasons

Turkey season opens tomorrow, March 22! We know you’re ready to Go Hunt Georgia, so here’s what to expect this season.

Overall, statewide productivity was up slightly in the summer of 2013 (1.4 poults/hen). It’s considered low, though statewide productivity in 2012 was even lower at 1.3 poults/hen. Gobbler harvest levels in the spring of 2012 and 2013 were high.  So in the last couple of years, poult production has been low and high harvest levels have reduced the annual carryover. In a nutshell, hunters may have to hunt harder and longer to be successful in 2014. The Piedmont and Ridge and Valley should see most of that change, while the rest of the state should be similar to the last few years.

In the lower coastal plain, 2013 poult production increased 24 percent from 2012 and remains stable in the upper coastal plain. These regions of the state should experience a season similar to 2013.

2013 poult production in the mountains increased 110 percent (0.65 v 1.4 pph) over 2012, but is still considered low.  Season outlook in this region of the state is expected to be better than 2013.

The Piedmont of Georgia represents the “bread and butter” of the state turkey population. In 2012, this region recorded 1.2 pph and increased slightly to 1.3 pph in 2013. This data suggests that the Piedmont experienced low production in 2012 and 2013.  As such, the outlook for 2014 is expected to be a challenging season for Piedmont turkey hunters.

The Ridge and Valley experienced a marked decrease in productivity in 2013 with an index of 0.80 pph (down from 1.4 in 2012).  Similarly to the Piedmont, productivity has suffered the last 2 summers and the outlook for 2014 is expected to be a challenging season.

Check out Kevin’s 2014 forecast and 2013 recap in this video!

If you’re heading out this weekend, take some photos of your hunt. We want to see them! Share them with us on Instagram with the hashtag #gohuntga.

Think Twice Before Deeming Deer a “Cull”

Info provided by Randy Wood, Georgia DNR Wildlife Technician

Same deer in 2012 (top left) as seen in 2013 (top right). Was harvested on Ocmulgee WMA in 2013.

Same deer in 2012 (top left) as seen in 2013 (top right). Was harvested on Ocmulgee WMA in 2013.

Check out this photo. The buck on the top-left was caught on a trail camera in 2012. If you take a look at the rack, it “appears” to be of a lower quality. Many hunters today would consider the deer to be a “cull.”

This buck was 20 yards broadside from a hunter at one point in 2012. It was scrutinized as a potential “cull,” however the hunter passed it up.

Flash forward to 2013. Once again, on the same private property, the buck was caught on a camera less than 50 yards from the camera that caught it in 2012 (you can see the 2013 photo on the top-right). Most hunters would deem the 2013 version a quality buck! Two days later, and less than 300 yards from the camera on private property, the buck was harvested on Ocmulgee WMA’s archery only area, as can be seen in the bottom photo.

Not every deer that hunters deem a “cull” can be attributed to genetic factors.  This same deer grew a fine rack the following year!  Very seldom are single-sided antler malformations related to genetics, but rather the result of injury or disease.  When the buck was passed up in 2012, the hunter noted that there appeared to be an injury around the hip/pelvic region. When the deer was harvested in 2013, there was a visible spot of an old injury resembling the description from 2012.

Keep in mind, deer antlers can often be impacted by injuries rather than genetics.  So, perhaps we all need to think twice before ”culling” a buck based on antler malformations.  In addition, no amount of culling will impact herd genetics, positively or negatively.

DNR, Partners are Busy Burning

Mike Zang is “Fire Tuff!” - photo by Hal Massie

Mike Zang is “Fire Tuff!” – photo by Hal Massie

The week of the Tallulah Gorge burn proved a busy one statewide for restoring habitats with prescribed fire.  Fire management officer Shan Cammack says crews burned more than 5,000 acres, including four aerial burns in a row. Besides the gorge, sites included Chattahoochee National Forest in both the Blue Ridge and Chattooga districts, and a high-priority sandhills tract The Nature Conservancy owns in the western Fall Line Sandhills in Georgia.  Cammack said the burns will benefit rare species such as bog turtles, mountain pitcherplants, smooth coneflower, gopher tortoises and more.

There were a lot of frustrated burn bosses across the state last week according to wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus, but there may be one or two fewer after the big rain last Thursday (March 6). The Nature Conservancy and some DNR crews were pretty much shut down due to the rain. Luckily, seasonal fire crews have made a big run in the last four days with some fantastic burning in the Pine Mountain range, Chattahoochee National Forest, Oconee National Forest and some of The Nature Conservancy’s property. Crews will attempt a 750 acre duff burn on the old growth portion of Sprewell Bluff on Friday, March 14.

Region supervisor Chris Baumann reported that they’ve safely conducted the first burns (since state acquisition) on 233 acres of smoke and ecologically sensitive areas of Flat Tub WMA, thanks to the combined resources of Wildlife Resources and the Georgia Department of Transportation (cooperating to provide signage along GA Hwy 107).  Several hundred more acres were prepped for the first burns on the newly-acquired Rocky Hammock Tract.

Wildlife biologist Jess McGuire recently teamed up with Dirk Stevenson of the Orianne Society to provide technical assistance to a landowner in Tattnall County that has gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. The landowner wanted to learn about getting fire on the ground and management of sandhills in order to protect species such as the gopher tortoise.

This was one of four burn blocks completed on Clybel WMA at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center on Feb. 24video provided by wildlife biologist Bobby Bond

Here’s a look at a burn being conducted on the McLeod Bridge tract of Ohoopee Dunes WMAvideo provided by Tove Elfstrom

A closer look at prescribed burning on Altamaha WMA. Great photos!provided by Robert Horan

Staff also recently conducted a prescribed burn in areas dominated with longleaf pine and wiregrass at Dodge County PFAphoto from wildlife biologist Drew Larson

Additional acres burned:

  • Chickasawhatchee WMA  - 780 acres
  • Coosawattee WMA:  2,400 acres
  • Doerun WMA – 40 acres
  • Elmodel WMA – 35 acres
  • Flint River WMA – 195 acres
  • Hannahatchee WMA – 400 acres
  • Rich Mountain WMA:  100 acres
  • Rum Creek WMA – 1,000 acres
  • Silver Lake WMA – 396 acres

 

Prescribed Fire Awareness: How Fire Helps Wildlife and Habitat

Information provided by Region VI Game Management Supervisor Chris Baumann and wildlife biologist Bobby Bond

Region VI Game Management staff conducting prescribed burns on WMA lands in the area.

Region VI Game Management staff conducting prescribed burns on Beaverdam WMA.

Prescribed burning is one of the most efficient practices for land and wildlife management.  Burning promotes many of the beneficial grasses and plants that deer, turkey, quail, songbirds and other wildlife depend upon for both food and cover. It also helps control invasive plant species and reduce fuel in forest lands which helps prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Prescribed burns are conducted on a schedule developed by our wildlife biologists and technicians to ensure we are providing the right types of food and shelter that wildlife need throughout the course of a year.  Many of hunters and wildlife watchers have figured out to look for areas on wildlife management areas that were burned in the previous year, as these sites are very attractive to wildlife since they serve as large natural food plots and great places for viewing wildlife!

A large burn was conducted on Oaky Woods WMA Jan. 23. Seven burn blocks were burned which completed all prescribed burn activities for the year on Oaky Woods. A total of 1,237 acres were burned. The endeavor was completed in a joint cooperation between nearly all of Region IV Game Management personnel, Nathan Klaus’ Nongame Conservation Section burn crew and our Forest Management Unit for operating the helicopter burn machine.

Jeremy Whigham with Forest Management Unit used a GoPro camera borrowed from the UGA bear researchers to wear while operating the helicopter burn machine, while the helicopter was being piloted by Cpt. Steven Turner. You can see the “ping-pong” balls dropping from the machine and igniting the fire on the ground. Luckily, a deer camera survey was also being conducted on Oaky Woods, and trail camera set up on a firebreak captured footage of 4-wheeler activities from the ground. That footage can also be seen in the video. Thanks to wildlife technician Brian Grossman who spliced the videos together.

Game Management associates in Region VI have also been working many long days conducting prescribed burns on several WMAs.  After a frustratingly wet start to the burn season, staff was able to burn a considerable number of acres of pine uplands in the region.  Nearly 900 acres of habitat.were burned among River Bend, Grand Bay, Beaverdam and Bullard Creek WMAs as of Jan. 22, and that figure of acres burned continues to grow.

Special thanks to our professional wildlife biologists and technicians, the backbone of wildlife conservation and management in Georgia.   Wildlife conservation doesn’t exist or work without the foundation of habitat management and population monitoring, which is carried out by these dedicated individuals.

Private individuals interested in implementing prescribed burning for wildlife can contact one of our Game Management offices and ask for assistance with a plan to get them started with one of the most useful tools in wildlife management in the southeastern U.S.:  prescribed burning.

Footage from Prescribed Burn on Oaky Woods WMA

The Hunt of a Lifetime

By: Lee Floyd

Our family at the deer camp.

Our family at the deer camp.

We had been planning this vacation for months so last Sunday we loaded everything we own (it seemed like that to me) in the truck and my wife, daughter and I headed for deer camp. My son followed us down on Monday. Last Tuesday was his birthday and we all wanted to be together in the woods.

Monday morning my daughter and I headed into the woods at first light. Last year was her first year deer hunting but she didn’t get the opportunity to close the deal on her first. Just as we got to the food plot we were going to hunt we got busted by two does. We hunted the morning hunt but didn’t see anything else. At least we got to see deer.

Monday evening we were back at the same spot with the same results, busted by the same two does. That’s where the bad luck ended and the magic began, and brother it was pure magic. About 5 p.m. a buttonhead came out at the bottom of the foodplot and we sat and watched him graze. A few minutes later a handsome spike came out in the plot to our left and began to graze. Ten minutes later a 6-pointer came out on our right and started to graze.

The buttonhead worked his way up the plot towards us and the spike started moving in his direction. Meanwhile, the 6 pointer is watching all of this while he browses. The spike got froggy and chased the buttonhead out of the middle of the plot and up towards us. The 6-pointer was watching and I could tell he was thinking “What does that guy think he is doing picking on a small fry like that?” He lowered his head and went back to browsing but he started moving towards the spike. I knew what was coming next.

Matt's deer

Matt’s deer!

The spike sensed the challenge, stood his ground waiting for the 6-pointer to get there and when he did the spike started sniffing around the 6-pointer’s backside. The 6-pointer wheeled around and the tussle began. Finally the 6-pointer dropped the bulldozer blade and started backing the spike up until he had enough and left.

Since Troup County is 4-points or better none of the deer were legal but my daughter got to watch her first fist fight with a ringside seat. She was definitely stoked.

Tuesday morning was my son’s birthday and it dawned cool and clear but windy. He decided to hunt behind camp which was a zero prospects hunt because I’ve only taken two pictures of deer all year long back there. Meanwhile my daughter and I were back on the same foodplot. 10 a.m. came and we decided nothing was happening, so time to head back to camp for some breakfast and a snooze. As soon as we were on the ground we both received a text from my son saying he had one on the ground. We beat a hasty retreat back to camp and out to the foodplot and he was there with a nice 8-pointer on the ground and his proud mom was snapping pictures. It came out of nowhere, worked it’s way down the foodplot, and when he finally had a shot he took care of “bidness.”

This makes five years in a row he has killed a deer on his birthday or his birthday weekend. Nov. 5 is his lucky day.

That evening I decided to hang in camp with my wife since my daughter wanted to hunt with her brother.  Since he had the hot hand it made sense.  They hit the woods about 3:30 p.m. and my wife and I enjoyed a lazy fall afternoon together while we rode over to RB’s taxidermy in Manchester to get a Euro mount started for my son.

The end of legal hunting time came and went and we hadn’t heard a peep out of the two hunters. Finally about 6:45 p.m. we both get a text from my son Matt – “Amanda’s deer”.

Amanda's deer!

Amanda’s deer!

Another 8-pointer on the ground. This one did the same thing. It came out of nowhere off to their right just before last light. Matt put his binocs on it, saw it was legal, looked across at his sister and whispered “that’s your deer.” From there on in she took care of business like a seasoned deer hunter. She got the crosshairs on him, lined up the shot and waited until she knew she had a kill shot and squeezed off the shot like she had been taught. She described the whole thing to me and I told her “You were in the zone, weren’t you Sugar Bear?” She knew immediately what I was talking about. Now she knows what it means because she experienced it.

They got back to camp and the celebration was on. We enjoyed a relaxing evening and a family dinner together in the newly renovated cabin I spent all Summer and all of archery season working on dreaming about this day.

The next day was skinning, quartering and butchering. Amanda’s no slacker and she is in it to win it, including the work after the shot. It didn’t take much instruction because she’s a natural.

I’ve done a lot of hunting and fishing over the years and have tons of special memories just like everyone else, but this trip takes the cake. The weather was stunningly perfect, the woods were ablaze with Fall colors, the deer were moving, my son got an 8 pointer on his birthday and my daughter got her first deer the same day and we had a relaxing time in the woods and shared the closeness of family all together. It was idyllic magic from start to finish. I don’t know how I could ask the Good Lord for more but I am looking forward to the next time we are all together in the woods again. They say if you “talk the magic” you lose it. I’m thinking I can beat the odds on that as long as I’m with my family in the west Georgia woods!

Editor’s Note: The author has granted us permission to share this story on the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division blog. He originally posted his story on Georgia Outdoor News Forum at http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?t=779483.

What’s the Strange Growth on this Deer’s Head?

By: John Bowers, GA DNR Game Management Chief

warty deer

The tumor-like, “warty” growths on this deer’s head surrounding both antlers are most likely fibromas or antleromas.

This deer was a road-killed deer found in Cherokee County, near Canton.  The tumor-like, “warty” growths on this deer’s head surrounding both antlers are most likely fibromas or antleromas.  Fibromas are caused by a virus which is thought to be transmitted by various biting insects. However, another possible means of transmission of the viral agent is direct contact.

Fibromas are gray or black in color, can vary widely in size and can appear as a single or multiple growths.  Antleromas are similar, but they can become massive. Several studies on antleromas have suggested a link between abnormal testosterone levels and antler growth abnormalities. However, we cannot be certain whether such is related to this instance.

Rarely do these abnormalities cause deer any problems, but occasionally the location of a large growths can interfere with sight, eating, breathing, or even affect the ability of the deer to walk. Occasionally, a bacterial infection can develop.  No human infection from fibromas or antleromas has been reported. The only concern would be from an animal with extensive bacterial infection, which would render the deer unsuitable for human consumption. These “warty” growths are of no significance to the health of the deer population.

Categories: Hunting

Quail Covey Count Update

Biologists and volunteers get up well before the crack of dawn for quail covey counts this fall.

Biologists and volunteers get up well before the crack of dawn for quail covey counts this fall.

By: Dallas Ingram, GA DNR Wildlife Biologist – Private Lands Program

In the past few weeks of October and into November, several DNR employees and volunteers have been waking up and heading to the woods for work as early as 3:30 a.m. Waking up at this time has its advantages, like great sunrises and the sound of quail coveys calling.

This is the time of year when bobwhite quail have gathered back together in groups called coveys, and biologists can gather information on quail populations by listening for their calls.  Biologists and volunteers stand in designated locations and listen for quail to call, which only occurs about 15- 30 minutes prior to sunrise, and lasts only for a few minutes.  The covey calls are counted and this information, along with information about the weather, is entered into a formula that helps determine the number of quail present on the property.

A lot of time and preparation goes into these counts, but the information gained is invaluable for determining the effectiveness of management practices and setting quotas and harvest limits. Without DNR personnel from the Game Management Section, Forest Management Unit, Private Lands Program and numerous volunteers who go on to work their regular schedule, these counts would not be possible.

This year, DNR personnel and volunteers have been out 14 mornings to conduct counts on seven WMAs and three private lands across the state, but primarily in southwest Georgia.  About 60 people have participated to cover nearly 32,000 acres.

We would like to send a special thank you to Jason Scott’s class of students from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) for their overwhelming support this year.  Without them and our other volunteers, we would not have been able to accomplish so much.

If you are interested in helping with fall covey counts in the future, or would like information about conducting counts on your property, contact a Private Lands biologist at one of the following offices.

Southwest Georgia: 229-420-1212

Central Georgia: 478-296-6176.

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