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What happened this week again?

We experienced our first round of archery deer hunt this past weekend. Our position consisted of: registering ALL deer (doe, button buck and buck) on the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website and determining the age of the bucks (only bucks) that were brought in.

Deer registration helps control the amount of deer a single person is allowed to hunt in the state depending on the different licenses they have acquired. Hunting license laws get complicated very quickly due to the large variety of them, and since Big Oaks is a national wildlife refuge overlaid on a closed Army proving ground, there are some additional complications/exceptions that staff and hunters have to be aware of. Additionally, state laws require a transportation tag and number to transport deer out of the refuge and for deer processing. The only way to get a confirmation number is to register the deer on the DNR website.

The largest bucks harvested were an eight point and a nine point. A total of approximately 20 deer were harvested.

Maintaining an overall healthy deer population at Big Oaks requires the recording of the weights of 1.5 year old bucks. Aging the deer took some practice on our part, but as the weekend progressed we improved. To age the deer, one must slice the jaw open to be able to look at the third tooth from the front. Identifying the third tooth can be tricky since the teeth aren’t clearly defined. One must look at the dip in the gum to find the start and end of the tooth. The third tooth will be a tricuspid or a bicuspid. A tricuspid has three “mountain peaks”; a bicuspid has two. A 1.5 year old deer can either have an extremely worn down looking tricuspid OR a very sharp, white and shiny, with no signs of decay or wear bicuspid. One of the deer had both! The bicuspid tooth was pushing the tricuspid tooth out!

We were only allowed to cut the jaw open if given permission by the hunter who had harvested the deer. If the hunter was going to mount the deer, we were not given permission because it would have ruined the pelt.

Gray fox update! Two hunters reported seeing a gray fox in the refuge and said to have found some tracks. This is good news! A camera was set in the area in which the sighting occurred. Some of the sd cards of the previous cameras were collected and need to be sorted through. Fingers crossed! We also learned that foxes are considered perfect walkers. This means that the back feet step in the exact same spot as the front feet when they walk. In other words, you would only see two tracks instead of four. Coyotes and moose do this as well but they are a little sloppier.

In continuation of our fire training, we had our physicals done this week. Physicals are conducted to make sure we are fit for the job. They checked our eyesight and our hearing. The hearing test was interesting. We had to sit in a small closed booth with headphones listening to beeps. At first, we were only hearing beeps in our right ear and thought maybe something was wrong with our left ear! Rest assured, we eventually heard the beeps in our left ear. They were testing our hearing in each individual ear.

They checked if we were up to date on our tetanus shots, conducted a tuberculosis test (aka PPD), performed an EKG (electrocardiogram), collected urine samples, and two vials of blood samples for further testing.

Wildland firefighters must remain physically fit as part of their job requirement. Being a wildland firefighter can be very taxing on the body and the people in charge need to know you can be relied upon. If you are not physically fit it can cause complications putting both yourself and others in grave danger.

Our last horay of the week didn't happen at Big Oaks! We were invited to go to our neighboring refuge, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. Very different from Big Oaks, Muscatatuck has a lot of water basins with a lot of waterfowl: blue wing teal, American black ducks, wood ducks, mallards, grebes, cormorants, and canada geese to name a few. The ones listed are the ones we saw. Some in larger numbers than others. It was a little early in the season to see an abundance of mallards for example. Waterfowls choose their habitat based on the depths of the water basins. Dabbling ducks (blue wing teal, American black ducks, wood ducks, mallards) prefer shallow ponds or lakes. To access underwater vegetation they put half of their body or only their head in the water. These species are the ones you see upside down with their rear sticking out of the water. Diving ducks on the other hand dive down into the water until they are no longer visible from the surface. This allows them greater access to deeper vegetation in deeper ponds or lakes. However, this is just a general rule, dabbling ducks can be found in deeper water basins and diving ducks can be found in shallower water basins for short periods of time as long as food is available. However, habitat will also depend on how deep the diving birds can in fact dive. Cormorants can dive a couple of feet below the water surface. Grebes don't dive as deep.

Something for you to think about. Cormorants can often be seen sunbathing on a snag in the water with their wings spread out. Can you guess why?

Our first stop for our bird survey at Richard Lake in Muscatatuck. We started at 7:45 a.m. with a crisp morning enjoying the sunrise.

Photo by Ethan Crane


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