Rudolph will not be the only ungulate in the skies above Utah this winter season

UTAH — With Christmas and thoughts of Rudolph on the horizon, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will be proving that deer can fly although be it with some assistance from a helicopter. Each year DWR captures roughly 1,000 big game animals such as moose, elk, buffalo, pronghorn and deer in order to perform health assessments and place GPS collars on the animals to better understand migration patterns. This year’s efforts will be taking place from late November to mid-December.

The process is well-planned and executed in a way to minimize stress on the animals. First, the target animals are located and then captured with the use of a net gun fired from a helicopter. The animals are then transported to a staging area where the assessments take place.

Being able to track animals from one year to the next can tell biologists a lot about what is happening to animals around the state. Biologists are able to answer big questions, such as how long a deer lives within the state. Measurements of fat content can give a sense of the health of the animal. In addition, an implant is placed inside a mule deer doe that will fall out when they give birth allowing biologists to find recently born fawns.

“It’s interesting to follow an animal through its lifecycle — it teaches us a lot about their behavior and movements,” said Jim Christensen, DWR regional wildlife manager.

DWR conducts these captures during the lead-up to winter because cooler temperatures help with the stress animals feel, as large game animals have a harder time regulating their body temperature. Cooler temperatures also help in the recovery of the animal when they are released.

Winter weather brings a change to many species’ habits as food becomes less available due to snowfall, forcing them to move to lower elevations making their targeted species easier to find. The increase in moose sightings around Park City and the large elk herd that travels within the area and is frequently located at Swaner Preserve are prime examples of this.

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