West Virginia DNR set to begin ‘spotlight surveys’ of deer herds

August 10, 2018

The Division of Natural Resources aims to gauge the size of local deer populations by cruising the state's roads, shining powerful spotlights and counting every deer the beams illuminate.

People in 22 West Virginia counties will soon see people out spotlighting deer, but not killing them.

It’s all part of a Division of Natural Resources effort to gauge the size of local deer populations. Every year since 2012, agency biologists have slowly cruised the state’s roads, shining powerful spotlights and counting every deer the beams illuminate.

“We try to tell everyone and their brother that we’re going to do this, because we don’t want people to think we’re poachers and call the authorities,” said Keith Krantz, the DNR’s game management supervisor for the state’s northern region.

“We try to notify people about a week ahead of the survey. We put out flyers along the routes about a week ahead of the survey, taping them to people’s mailboxes and doors to let them know what we’re doing. We also notify the local 911 center and the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

This year’s surveys are scheduled for Aug. 6-10 and Aug. 13-16. If it rains on one or both of those days, the surveys will be postponed to Sept. 4-7 or Sept. 10-13. The surveys will begin one-half hour after dark.

Krantz said it will be easy to tell a DNR spotlighting crew from a poacher.

“We’ll be in well-marked vehicles,” he said. “There will be people in trucks using spotlights. We won’t be shooting or killing anything. We’re not going to be doing anything other than looking at deer and counting them.

“Every time we see a deer, we’ll stop, estimate its range from the truck using a laser rangefinder, calculate the angle up or down from the vehicle, record the data and move on. That’s all there is to it.”

The survey routes are divided into 10-mile-long “transects.” Krantz said crews will survey three to four transects in each county.

This year’s list of counties includes Barbour, Berkeley, Brooke, Calhoun, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Lincoln, Marshall, Mason, Mercer, Mineral, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pleasants, Preston, Putnam, Raleigh, Randolph, Summers, Upshur and Wirt.

Krantz said DNR officials started doing the surveys to better determine how many deer exist in the Mountain State, and how those deer are distributed on the landscape.

“Before we started doing this, we based our population estimates strictly on harvest data -- how many deer were killed during the hunting seasons,” he explained. “These spotlight surveys are totally separate from the hunting season. They give us a different way to measure the population.”

He said data from the spotlight surveys have essentially shown that population estimates based on the harvest were pretty accurate.

“There’s generally been a good relation between the two,” he said. “So when our sampling shows our deer density is increasing, we expect the harvest to increase. We’re always looking for trends, whether the population is trending upward or downward.”

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