Deer Management

Project Overview

Bald Head Island provides excellent habitat for the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Since there is no hunting allowed on Bald Head Island and there are few incidents of mortality due to vehicle collisions, the population thrives and can reach unsustainable numbers. Previously, the deer population has been managed using an annual cull to maintain the population around 200 individuals to ensure minimal impacts to the maritime forest, which provides invaluable ecosystem services to the island. However, through the efforts of a group of concerned citizens non-lethal management is currently being tested using immunocontraception. Immunocontraception works to control animal populations by prohibiting an animal from reproducing through the use of injected contraceptives. For this project, female deer are vaccinated with a tested and EPA approved pharmaceutical drug called GonaCon™, which is produced by the USDA Wildlife Services.

This program is the first and only permitted deer immunocontraception program in North Carolina and as such serves as a test case for this type of non-lethal population control. This project is a collaborative effort between many partners, including the Village of Bald Head Island, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, and the Bald Head Island Conservancy. 

Questions about our deer program?  Email /deer and one of our deer team members will get back to you!


Project Protocol

Our team is using the birth control vaccine, Gonacon™, which is administered to female deer. To vaccinate the deer, we must first anesthetize them using a dart gun to remotely administer anesthesia drugs. Darting takes place from baiting stations established around the island as well as from roadsides, at dusk and into the night. Public, pet, and wildlife safety are a top priority and no darting takes place without full consideration of surroundings. Communications protocols are in place to coordinate with the Public Safety Department.

Once the deer is anesthetized, we vaccinate her, assess her health, apply tracking devices, and inject a reversal drug to counteract the anesthesia. To assess deer health we check her age, general physical condition, and draw blood to test for disease. This information will allow us to closely monitor the health of our deer herd and can impact future management decisions. To monitor the health of the deer after anesthesia we apply a lightweight radio collar to track the deer and ear tags to identify individuals.


Assessment Team Profile 

Our Deer Management efforts are lead by Randi Lesagonicz, Micah Walker, Ryan Conner, and Matt Nelson.  You can learn more about them here.


Deer Project Updates

2016-2017 Season

2016-2017 Season Update

Week Thirteen 04/17/2017

This week we captured 2 deer. The season is starting to slow down - the deer must be out enjoying the new weather too! We recaptured deer 89 who we caught earlier in this season. She has received her second dose and is completely vaccinated. We also caught a first-time doe, 123. We will monitor her for the next two weeks to make sure she is healthy! 

Week Twelve 04/10/2017

The deer team captured number 96 this week. She was a doe we previously tagged for the first time this year and has now received her second dose within her recommended 60-day period. 

Week Eleven 04/03/2017

The deer team recaptured one deer this week. Deer 121 is now fully vaccinated! We are currently sitting at a total of 25 deer.

Week Ten 03/27/2017

The deer team had a successful week! We captured a total of 5 deer. We added 2 new deer, now wearing ear tags 78 and 82. They received their first vaccination and are doing well! We recaptured deer numbers 116 and 124. They are both fully vaccinated. The last deer we caught was a double dose, 85, to collect blood for testing. We look forward to another great week and enjoying the lovely weather! 

Week Nine 03/20/2017

The deer team wrapped up the week with capturing 2 more deer. We recaptured deer 113 and administered her second vaccination. She is now 100% vaccinated! We also captured an untagged doe, 91. We have a total of 20 deer so far this season!  

Week Eight 03/13/2017

We had a great week! The deer team captured 4 deer. We captured 2 new deer that received their first dose of vaccinations: 87 and 120. We dosed deer 102 and deer 107 so they are now 100% vaccinated. We also collected blood from a fully vaccinated deer, 88, to test for pregnancy and other factors.

Week Seven 03/06/2017

The weather has not been in our favor too much this week, but we managed to capture 2 deer. Our team captured single-dose deer, 105, and single-dose deer, 104, which both now have their full dosage and are completely vaccinated! 

Week Six 02/20/2017

The deer team was very successful this week. We captured a total of 4 deer. 99, 101, and 111 received their second dose and are fully vaccinated. We captured a new deer, wearing ear tag number 86. They are all doing well! 

Week Five 02/13/2017

We had a great week! We captured 3 does total: 2 untagged and 1 tagged. Our team captured 2 untagged does, now wearing ear tags 89 and 96. We also captured tagged doe 112. They are all doing well! 

Week Four 02/06/2017

This week the deer team tagged 3 deer with the help of a visiting veterinarian Karen from NC State. Our first doe is now donning ear tag number 92. She was not captured before and received her first vaccination as did our other doe we captured, number 79. Our other deer was a button buck. Button bucks are difficult to tell apart from does, but we are making sure we identify gender as best as possible. He is now wearing orange tags 73/74. 

Week Three 01/30/2017

We had a successful week this week! We caught doe 100, which has been vaccinated twice already, and collected blood samples that will tell us if the vaccinations are working. Unfortunately, we had a case of mistaken identity. We captured a button buck, tagged 71/72. He blended in well with his doe counterparts. He is doing well though! Our team caught sight of him this weekend while out darting. We also captured doe 114, and she received her second vaccination. While out spotting, we saw quite a few doe and bucks. We look forward to another successful week! 

Week Two 01/23/2017

We had less darting opportunities this week due to weather. Unfortunately, we didn't add any new deer to the list. Next week's weather is looking better so we are staying positive. Stay tuned! 

Week One 01/16/2017
The deer team was getting acquainted with their new sites this past week as were the deer! We totaled one capture this week, a doe now wearing ear tag number 98. She has remained alive and healthy since we captured her. The team looks forward to another great season!  
 
01/06/2017 - Deer Management Project Darting Starts Today

The BHI Conservancy, in partnership with the Village of BHI and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, will begin darting this evening as part of the white-tailed deer management program.
 
The project is studying the efficacy of managing the BHI deer population using an immunocontraception procedure. The procedure involves first anesthetizing a female deer using a dart gun, followed by injection of GonaCon™ which is an immunocontraceptive that has been shown in clinical trials to be effective at preventing deer pregnancy; GonaCon™ use in this program poses no health threat to humans or pets.  Inoculated does are also fitted with a radio collar and ear tag for tracking purposes. 
 
Darting will be led by the BHI Conservancy Deer Team, which includes Technicians Randi Lesagonicz and Micah Walker and Interns Ryan Conner and Matt Nelson.  Deer Team members were hired from a very large group of experienced applicants and are well-qualified to execute this year’s deer management program.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact Brooke Milligan or Chris Shank at the Conservancy.   More information is also available on our website: www.bhic.org/deer.  
 
Public safety for humans and pets is always the Conservancy’s first priority

2015-2016 Season

2015-2016 Season Update

Dane Horowski and Erin Wood, our deer technicians from last year, are returning for the 2015-2016 season.  As of November 2015, the deer population on BHI is approximately 202.  We estimate that there are 81 (+/-3) does, 59 fawns, and 62 bucks on BHI based on photo analysis and previous sex ratios, respectively.  

Week Fourteen • 4/11/2016

The doe population was very active this week!  We got three new does, now wearing numbers 76, 106, and 118, as well as a recapture of doe 45/46.

Week Thirteen • 4/04/2016

This week we got added two more deer - one recapture, 77, and one new doe, now wearing 125.

Week Twelve • 3/28/2016

The doe population was very active this week!  We got three new does, now wearing numbers 76, 106, and 118, as well as a recapture of doe 45/46.
This week was not a very active week for the island's deer population.  We did not get any new does or any recaptures this week.

Week Eleven • 3/21/2016

This week we captured one new doe who is now wearing the tag 112.

Week Ten • 3/14/2016

This week we re-captured deer 97 so she is now fully vaccinated.  As the weather warms and the island becomes busier, we will begin easing out of the woods and into the office to finalize paperwork.  Be sure to check out our deer display in the Turtle Central Gift Shop and report any does you see on the island!

Week Nine • 3/07/2016

The weather was not very cooperative this past week.  We captured one new doe, now wearing tags 109, and recaptured 37/38.  We are hoping that the expected warm weather will bring us some good luck!

Week Eight • 2/29/2016

This week we have moved/established a number of bait sites to reach a new pool of target deer.  Deer have home ranges which they generally stick to so we are moving darting locations into new home ranges that we have not yet been active in.  As a result, captured two new does: 116 and 101!

Week Seven • 2/22/2016

We have encountered three (3) deer so far this season who have passed away due to being hit by golf carts.  Please remember to be careful while driving on the island!  This week our deer team re-captured 88 and tagged two new deer: 104 and 113.

Week Six • 2/15/2016

Our deer team keeps on rolling!  This past week, they successfully re-captured 11/12, 1/2, and 93!  Additionally, they added three new deer!  The new does are wearing tags 114, 121, and 107.  

Week Five • 2/08/2016

We are now at 15 total does!   We successfully captured 3 new does, now wearing tags: 21/22, 103, and 119.  We also recaptured 90 which means she is now 100% vaccinated.  We are hoping the high winds will start to settle so we can continue our efforts.

Week Four • 2/01/2016

The nice weather this past week really helped with our efforts.  We successfully captured 4 new does, now wearing tags: 102, 105, 115, and 124.  We also recaptured 80 which means she is now 100% vaccinated.  This brings our totals for the month of January to 6 new does tagged and 5 re-captured. We are off to a great start and want to thank our deer team, Dane, Erin, Justin, and Mitchell, for their hard work and long hours!

Week Three • 1/25/2016

We successfully captured one new deer and re-captured two deer this week!  We re-captured does 80 and 85.  They are both now 100% vaccinated.  Also, we captured, assessed, and vaccinated one new female deer.  She is a yearling doe and was tagged wearing the number 111.

Week Two • 1/18/2016

We successfully captured and vaccinated two deer this week!  We re-captured does 17/18 and the very popular 100.  They are both now 100% vaccinated.

Week One 1/11/2016
Our darting and assessment team had a very successful beginning to the field season! With this being a shorter week due to darting activities beginning on Wednesday, January 6, 2016, we successfully captured, assessed, and vaccinnated one new female deer.  She is the first deer of the season!  She is a yearling doe and was tagged wearing the number 99.   We are actively tracking this new deer using her radio collar signals to monitor their health.  We spent a majority of this week training new staff and preparing for the upcoming months.    We look forward to a another successful season.
 
01/06/2016 - Darting Set to Begin

The BHI Conservancy in partnership with the Village of BHI, the NC Wildlife Resource commission and other federal agencies will begin using birth control to manage our white tailed deer population.  This project protects the maritime forest from over grazing by managing the BHI deer population in a safe and humane way. The birth control used to sterilize deer is an immunocontraceptive in use throughout the USA and is safe and effective for deer. The drug is administered by first anesthetizing deer with a dart tranquilizer gun and once the animal is secure, injecting her with the birth control. The deer is then released with a radio collar and ear tag for tracking. The darting technique prioritizes the safety and well being of the public, pets, and the deer.

Darting is set to begin this evening on Bald Head Island.  As of November 2015, the deer population on BHI is approximately 202. Dane Horowski and Erin Wood, the BHI Conservancy deer technicians from last year, have returned for the 2015-2016 season.  Horowski has been on-island since the fall surveying the deer population and making the necessary preparations for the project.  With the addition of Wood this January, as well as two additional staff members dedicated to the project, the BHI Conservancy has full confidence in this team to complete another successful season.

2014-2015 Season

2014-2015 Season Overview

Our 2014-2015 season concluded with vaccinating 13 new deer and boosting 6 deer from the first field season. We are currently in the process of analyzing data from this field season. Preliminary results indicate that a combination of methods to capture deer, including trapping and darting, would be most effective. Currently, we are evaluating data collected through a camera survey to determine the number of deer on the island and provide updates to the inputs of our population model (fawning, mortality, gender ratio).

Trapping Updates

1/27/15 - Trapping update

Trapping over the last week was focused on establishing new box trap sites. After a particular site is selected based on presence of target deer, the deer must become acclimated to an open trap. Using wildlife camera footage the team tracked deer movement around each of the four traps and set them once target deer were comfortable going in. Despite our best efforts, no target deer were captured. Many of the deer remaining on camera seem to be very wary of human activity and trapping. Over time there is potential for deer to become educated about trapping actitivies. Deer are very astute and after witnessing fellow animals being trapped, will learn to avoid the trap regardless of the food reward. Our team saw similar wariness amongst the deer population when trying to trap using the drop net. Target deer were more likely to hang around the edge of the net than go under. This coming week we will continue to man the box traps and drop nets in an attempt to capture more target animals before the close of the project on January 31.

1/19/15 - Trapping update

Trapping over the last week was focused on finding new areas to place box traps. By carefully watching cameras, setting up test bait piles, and reviewing camera footage, the team was able to establish several new trapping sites with viable does. Deer take several days to acclimate to new traps and while we have not trapped any new does in the past week, the team feels confident that the new sites will offer the best opportunity to capture new deer. It is important to note that as deer see trapping occur, they are able to learn. This may cause deer to actively avoid traps, thereby reducing the ability of the team to capture the deer. To increase our likelihood of capturing target deer, the team has increased the frequency with which we check traps, moved traps to target locations, and spent time sitting at the drop net site for target individuals.

1/12/15 - Trapping update

During the last week, four box traps were active and set around the island. Trapping yielded only bycatch including 1 fawn, 1 buck, 2 tagged does, and several squirrels. The drop net was established at the mulch site and the team trapped there over the weekend. The net was dropped on one unvaccinated doe, but she managed to free herself from the net by pulling the middle supporting post from the ground. The team responded by burying the supporting post deeper in the ground, and continuing to sit at the site. Deer returned to the site within an hour and were feeding under the net, but none were target animals. Trapping using the drop net will continue this week as there are several target animals visiting this site. Additional bait site footage has yielded some new information about where to place box traps. The team will move box traps this week to target the most unvaccinated does.

1/5/15 - Trapping update

Happy New Year! Through the end of December and a short holiday break, the box traps were consistently baited by our dedicated volunteers. This consistent baiting allowed us to continue our trapping efforts upon our return from the holiday break. Trapping resumed on January 29th with 4 active box traps and one drop net site. Since then we have not captured any target does, but have had many re-captures of already tagged does. The team continues to evaluate new bait site locations to target does that have not yet recived the birth control vaccine. Additionally the team is currently establishing a new site for use of the drop net, which is an option for more selective trapping.

12/8/14 - Trapping update

Trapping in the last week has yielded an additional doe being treated with the birth control vaccine. After the deer becoming accustomed to the drop net, our team sat at a drop net site this week. Although we did not capture any deer using this method, it is still in the early stages and we expect to continue exploring this option in the coming weeks. We have also had a few non-target animal captures, including females that are not eligible to receive the vaccine, fawns, bucks and several squirrels. For more information on the deer management project, please come to our public meeting on December 15th at 2:00pm in the Rice Theater at the Barrier Island Study Center.

12/1/14 - Trapping update

Trapping over the last few weeks has presented both challenges and successes. The heavy rain for several days last week tested the integrity of the box traps and caused the doors to becomes warped. To continue trapping the doors had to be reinforced and repaired. Additionally, the team found that rodents in the trap can find their way out by gnawing around the fingerholds on the door! These issues have been overcome and the two box traps have been active over the past two weeks. A third box trap has also been deployed, but the deer are still becoming acclimated to the box before trapping can begin. To date, the team has captured two viable females in box traps, bringing our total vaccinated deer for this field season to 15. Although the traps have mostly captured deer, including bucks and fawns, the team has also captured a squirrel and several rats. Since box traps are not selective, meaning you can't decide which animals will set off the trap, this is expected.

The team has also deployed the drop net, but the deer are still becoming acclimated to it. To be successful, the deer must eat corn from under the net. We will continue to monitor our wildlife cameras to determine when trapping using the net will be most successful.

Please check back next week for another trapping update.

11/17/14 - Approval of new methods and beginning trapping

Approval of new methods and beginning trapping

On Friday, November 14 we received a new permit from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to use trapping methods including box traps and drop nets to capture deer on Bald Head Island. After also receiving permission from other partner agencies and groups, we began testing our first box trap on Friday. Dane and Erin have successfully captured a couple bucks without any harm to the animal or themselves. Moving into this week of trapping, they will also be setting a drop net. After carefully reviewing the function of the box trap and refining the design, they will move forward with building additional box traps to increase the chances of capturing female deer.

Stephenson's box traps

Box traps are a passive trapping method (trappers need not be present at time of capture) in which a deer will enter a 6’L x 2’W x 4’H wooden structure to access the bait. When set, the two doors (short sides) will be open, and the back door will be blocked with a wire panel. There is also an extraction chute built into one of the side panels near the back door which can be opened to release target animals into a purse net or release non-target animals. The trap is triggered when a trip line near the back door is pulled or pushed which releases doors enclosing, the animal. These traps will be checked often (2-3 times a day minimum). Non target individuals (bucks, fawns, undesired tagged does) are released without handling by opening the front door or extraction chute. Target individuals will be released out of the trap and immediately restrained with a purse net. Two people will be holding  a 5'x5' sheet of netting (purse net) on either side of the narrow extraction chute and one person will open the chute. The extraction chute is placed on the side so that it requires the animal to turn in order to exit, preventing the animal from gaining speed. When the animal is released, it is immediately brought down by the net and the two people holding the net will physically restrain it with body weight. Once restrained, the doe is blindfolded, ear tagged, and GonaCon is administered.

Drop nets

Drop nets are an active trapping method (trappers are present and trigger the trap) in which deer walk under a previously constructed net to access the bait. The net is suspended above the bait site from a 10.5' tall center poll and corners of the net are attached to perimeter posts approx 4' off the ground. The net itself is held in place by a trigger rope leading from the trapper's blind to the top of the center pole via pulley system (see diagram). The trappers trigger the trap by cutting the rope and the net drops to the ground, capturing the deer. Once captured, the deer is immediately restrained with body weight and blindfolded, at which time ear tags are applied and GonaCon is administered.

Please check back here for an update on these trapping methods next week. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Courtney Spears at courtney@bhic.org or 910-338-0942.

11/7/14 - Pursuing new methods: Part 2

As we wait for approval from WRC to use new methods, we are staying busy with continued baiting and lots of construction! Dane and Erin, along with Friends of Deer volunteers have been hard at work building our first box trap. We are currently working with partners and current bait site owners to approve the use of these traps on Bald Head and will post an update here when we have confirmation. Please check back soon for an update.

10/30/14 - Pursuing new methods: Part 1

As mentioned in the last update, the deer management project was put on hold due to a tagged deer being spotted off island. Concern for anesthesia drugs entering the human food chain led to the Wildlife Resources Commission temporarily suspending our permit. The permit for darting has been re-issued beginning the third Saturday in February, at the conclusion of deer hunting season in North Carolina. During the past few days, the Conservancy staff has been very busy putting together capture methods that do not involved anesthesia. The two methods most compatible for use on BHI include box traps and drop nets. BHI Conservancy board members and the Friends of BHI Deer decided to move forward in talking with all involved partners to get these methods approved. Pending approval from all parties, the BHI Conservancy may implement these methods to continue the management project throughout hunting season. Please check back soon for an update.

Week Four

The beginning of this week brought some relief for the darting and assessment team as we were able to capture and remove the collar from the doe with her front hoof caught in her collar (ear tags #31/32). She had some swelling and abrasions from being entangled for several weeks, but she is putting weight on the injured leg and has been captured on camera eating at a bait site which are great signs for her recovery. We will continue to monitor her progress in the coming weeks.

Although this week has brought success, we have also experienced a temporary hold on field activities. A buck captured in last year’s field practices was sighted in Carolina Beach, which raised concerns about BHI deer entering the human food chain. Out of an abundance of caution, NC Wildlife Resources Commission put a hold on field operations. Since it is hunting season, and we are using chemical immobilizers that persist in deer meat for 45 days, it is important that we continue to make public safety a top priority. The permit for this project was issued under the assumption that the deer population on Bald Head is closed, meaning that new deer don’t come in and our deer don’t leave. We will continue to work with partners as we evaluate the best way to proceed with deer management efforts on Bald Head Island. 

Total number of vaccinated does: 13
Does vaccinated this week: 2

Week Three

Although the beginning of week three was a little slow, we have successfully captured and vaccinated 6 deer in the past 5 days! On October 15th we re-captured doe 33/34 from last year just behind the Conservancy. She is now 100% vaccinated, along with doe 29/30 captured at the Laundry facility and 13/14 captured at our site on Indian Blanket.

In addition to our success with previously captured deer, we vaccinated three new does. Keep at eye out for two does with ear tags 77 and 90 around the Mulch site area and a doe with ear tags 95 around the laundry facility.

Total number of vaccinated does: 11

Does vaccinated this week: 6

Week Two

As the team continues to settle into Bald Head Island, this past week of fieldwork brought darting success. On October 7 two does were captured and inoculated. Both does are new to the current deer management project. One doe sports the ear tags #93, and the second doe was part of an earlier radio collar study and retained her yellow ear tag #9 in the right ear. Both does were given their first dose of Gonacon. To be 100% vaccinated, they will receive a second dose next year.

The darting team successfully completed their first re-capture of a vaccinated doe from last year on October 12. The doe with ear tags #41 and #42 was anesthetized and given a booster shot of Gonacon. This deer is officially the first 100% vaccinated doe on Bald Head Island! Please keep an eye out for her on the East end of the island as her home range is around the Commons area.

The weather has been favorable, but deer may still be using the highly productive maritime forest for food sources. As we move into fall and food sources are depleted, the deer will likely move into the open in search of food. In the meantime, the darting team plans to implement some new strategies to increase their chances of encountering deer. These methods include potentially establishing some more remote bait sites and altering the hours of darting activities.

Total number of vaccinated does: 5

Does vaccinated this week: 

Week One

Our darting and assessment team had a very successful beginning to the field season! Since beginning darting activities on October 2, 2014, we have captured, assessed, and vaccinated two new female deer. Our newest tagged deer are wearing the numbers 97 and 85 and can be seen in the market area and East Beach area respectively. We are actively tracking these new deer using their radio collar signals to monitor their health.

We are still tracking and monitoring the health of the deer with her front leg stuck in her collar, ear tags 31/32. She is visiting one of our bait sites and is still very mobile and eating. She is still a top priority for darting so that we may remove her radio collar and assess her health.

2013-2014 Season

2013-2014 Season Overview

Our 2013-2014 season ended in February 2014 with eighteen vaccinated deer. Tagged deer were tracked and their health monitored throughout the spring and summer.

Some of you may recall in July a deer spotted sitting on the side of the road in front of the BHI Club. This doe was tagged with ear tags number 23 and 24. When she was found, she was unable to stand on her own and was very warm because of the intense heat. Under the advisement of a wildlife veterinarian, BHI Conservancy staff moved her to a nearby wooded area to cool down. Despite our best efforts she passed away. Following procedure, we performed a detailed necropsy and sent samples to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia - Athens to test for any diseases. We received the results this week and she tested negative for hemorrhagic diseases, west nile virus, rabies, and chronic wasting disease. According to their analysis, she passed as a result of a generalized bacterial infection of unknown origin. 


Additional Information

Island deer getting birth control - January 2017 - Star News

Bald Head Island completes third season of non-lethal deer herd control - May 2016 - State Port Pilot

Bald Head does to receive birth control injections - January 2016 - Star News

Bald Head Island Deer Management Project Proposal

Round two for deer birth control plan on Bald Head in the Port City Daily