Hunting ranches use many techniques to ensure they properly manage their wildlife. Harvest records, wildlife surveys, and population control are ways that outfitters and ranches can ensure that game flourishes from year to year so that generations of hunters can continue to harvest trophy wildlife season after season. One technique that many ranches have started including in their management program is aerial surveys.
Double T Outfitters uses helicopter surveys to help collect valuable information on our white-tailed deer populations which helps prepare for the upcoming season as well as set harvest recommendations. Aerial surveys help ranches estimate the current deer density, age and sex ratios in the fields and pastures, as well as check antler development, scout brush and vegetation growth, and give an overall snapshot of the health of the wildlife and land in general.
Some experts consider helicopter surveys to be the most accurate method for determining deer populations in a territory. However, the survey should be considered a conservative estimate and not a complete deer count, as studies have shown aerial counts to underestimate deer density by an average of 60-70%, according to research by Texas A&M University in Kingsville.
The main disadvantage to conducting a helicopter or aerial survey is the price. Permits must be obtained through Texas Parks and Wildlife for both the landowner and the aerial operator. Fuel, pilot experience, insurance and general maintenance are all factors that contribute to the expensive costs of conducting the census.
The best time to start an aerial survey is just after sunrise, as deer movement is more active. The only exception would be if the land is very dense with brush and vegetation, or very hilly. In this instance it may be advantageous to begin the survey about an hour after sunrise because of shadows.
Aerial surveys are usually conducted with a pilot and at least one observer. Both will count the deer they observe. All bucks, does and fawns sighted during air time should be recorded on a data log. Each pasture should be recorded separately, and if possible additional information should be captured such and class size of the deer seen.
If possible, the ranch should be flown in North/South transects to reduce the chances of glaring directly into the sun. Preferably the survey will be flown at an altitude ranging from 30-50 feet high for best viewing. However, factors such as wind, terrain and hills many affect how the pilot can safely fly.
When watching for deer, one must remember to look not only ahead, but also to the side as well as behind the helicopter. Another great tip is to try and look through the vegetation for movement, though in thick brush deer many not be as likely to run from the sound of the helicopter.
Aerial surveys are a great way for ranches to collect important data about game including buck to doe ratios, antler development and fawn production. It's also one of the best ways to predict deer populations for determining harvest recommendations for the season. Double T Outfitters employs these methods to help with our wildlife management efforts, and we gain valuable information every time we fly our ranches.