BOONE - It’s well after dark when a vehicle slowly drives along a gravel road. Inside, both driver and passenger, with spotlight and binoculars in hand, are looking for deer.
Normally this would set off alarm bells for the local game warden. But in this instance, the game warden could be in the driver’s seat.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducts its nighttime spotlight survey for deer and raccoons each spring before trees leaf out.
The survey purpose is to estimate deer densities and count raccoons, coyotes, house cats, jackrabbits, bobcats, badgers, skunks, opossums, foxes or other furbearers along defined routes across Iowa.
“The data is used to follow trends in deer numbers,” said Chris Jennelle, biometrician with the DNR’s Wildlife Bureau. “It is used for tracking as an index in conjunction with other information like harvest surveys and the bow hunter survey. The spotlight survey has been completed for decades and is an important element of our management plan.”
This year, the survey may shed some light on the impact of last year’s EHD outbreak on the deer herd. “In conjunction with information such as hunter harvest, this survey will help us gauge where our deer herd is after the outbreak,” Janelle said.
Each county has two randomly selected 20-25 mile long routes that are driven when the wind is less than 15 miles per hour, there is no fog or rain, and temperatures are above freezing. It takes 4 to 6 hours to complete each survey.