By John Koleszar
The e-mail alert from Nicole Tatman said that the does that had been captured in May were finally starting to drop their fawns. I managed to connect with Nicole and told her I would be driving out to the 3Bar area on Friday August 8, 2008 and would help them on Saturday August 9, 2008. She told me that she could not guarantee that there would be any fawns dropped that day, but that I was welcome to ride along with her and Kyle Taylor and see the kind of effort that went into the study. Nicole and Kyle are both part of the Texas Tech team that has been so instrumental in trying to find out what is happening to the fawns in the rugged area just east of 4 Peaks. In the previous issue of the Deer Times, the process of capturing the pregnant does and the insertion of the VIT (Vaginal Insert Telemetry) was chronicled. Now the does were beginning to drop the fawns, and the telemetry units once expelled would begin to beep with a frequency that let the researchers know there was a fawn on the ground. The process of finding those newly dropped fawns and collaring them was the reason for my visit. With any luck, we would find a fawn and I would be able to journal both the activities as well as my thoughts about the process.
For anyone who has questions about the luxurious accommodations at the study area, rest assured, this is not a four star resort and electricity is provided by a generator and only at night. I elected to sleep out under the stars until the wake up call which would be Kyle riding up the road from the cabin. Somehow, I neglected to think through the fact that if it is over 100 in the Valley, then it won’t be much cooler at Lake Roosevelt. I tried for a while to sleep under the stars, but gnats, bugs, mosquitoes and other creatures made it impossible. Sleeping upright in the cab of my air-conditioned truck became the only solution. The wake-up call of Kyle at my truck window came at 3:30 am… not exactly my usual starting time, but I did want to follow them on a typical day. Kyle brought along an extra pair of the electronic earmuffs and antennae to listen in to the frequency for each doe as well as the newly collared fawns. There had been 14 that had dropped as of last week, and 11 were still alive by that point in time. Kyle and Nicole each had a specific area to stop and listen in the dark to try and pick up each doe and fawn by their particular frequency. After the first couple, I was able to hear the sounds of the beeps and we identified that all was well, but that none had dropped during the night… until we got to the last station. Kyle let me hear the difference in the beeps and that told him that we had a new arrival on the ground. We were on the far north end of the enclosure and he thought that the doe was back to the south, so we radioed Nicole and arranged to meet her at the far south end of the enclosure. Surprisingly, he was able to calibrate the device so that they could actually pinpoint when the fawn had been dropped. As it turned out, the fawn had been dropped at about 5:30 pm the previous evening. The odds were not real good that the fawn was still in the area, but we were sure going to try and find it.
I wondered why they had not searched earlier and that was when the protocol of the VIT was explained to me. The telemetry unit would not change its characteristics until the device hit a temperature of 85 degrees. In the desert heat, the telemetry units if expelled during the day will maintain the surrounding heat, and in the desert that means they will not cool off until after nightfall. Kyle and Nicole would then do their route at 3:30 am and finish just before daylight. If a fawn has been dropped, they use the head sets and telemetry wands to pinpoint exactly where the fawn was. Finding the fawns and which hillside they are located on becomes a bit of guesswork. That means climbing around with one person using the wand and headset, searching for a louder and more consistent beep. Looking out over the landscape, I knew that we would be hiking through an area that I really did not want to be in…snake country. Both Kyle and Nicole felt that the VIT we were looking for this morning was in a canyon that was one-drainage over from where we had set up. We had company for the hike, as Nicole’s mother and stepfather had arrived for the search as well. So with Nicole in the lead, armed with the head set and telemetry wand, we began our descent down to the bottom of the draw and then up the following side. Did I mention that I hate snakes? When I finally reached the top of the draw, Nicole had already gotten to the top and had a reading that she felt pointed to the fawn being further up the next draw. So, we carefully walked through the area behind her, looking intently for any sign of a doe or her new fawn. By the time we had gotten to the bottom of the draw, Nicole was still getting readings up the next slope. I became acutely aware that I had not packed enough water, and as we began to climb the next hill I knew that getting back to the trucks was not going to be easy. We climbed carefully up the hill, searching intently for the fawn. Finally, Nicole waved us over. She had found the VIT, but there was no fawn, and no real birthing spot that she could find. At that point we spread out, each searching a quadrant carefully searching for the new fawn. I worked my way higher, hoping that the fawn had gone uphill. After about 100 yards, I found that we had climbed all the way back to where Kyle and I had been when we originally got our first reading in the early morning hours. The road that we had ridden on was just above where the fawn had been dropped. Mom and fawn were nowhere to be seen, even though we spent a good half hour looking for them.
I stared back across the two canyons and could see the two trucks that were seemingly so close. Kyle and Nicole offered to hike back and get the trucks and drive over to the spot where we had crested. I agreed to stay and wait with Nicole’s mom while they doubled back and got the trucks. By now the temperatures were closing in on 100 degrees, and I gratefully plopped down on the road under a mesquite bush. The day was then basically over. They do not search during the heat of the day (thank God) and the readings don’t help until the next morning at 3:30 am when the process is repeated. It was great to see Nicole and Kyle do the work that is so important to all of us. They are dedicated and exacting in the daily process. Each and every doe and fawn is accounted for daily and hopefully by the time this article is in reader’s hands, the process of evaluation of the data will be under way. This is certainly a unique study and it helps to have young legs going up and down those draws. Watching Kyle and Nicole climb up and down with relative ease I was reminded of the recent movie “No country for old men”… it seemed to accurately describe my attitude by the end of the day. JK