Evaluation of Population Estimates of White-tailed Deer from Camera Survey

Use of trail cameras to make population estimates of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) has increased since an estimator was developed by Jacobson et al. (1997). We evaluated the accuracy of the camera estimator in six 81-ha enclosures with varying densities of deer replicated on two study areas. Baited camera surveys were conducted for 14 days in autumn and winter. We also tested the finding from previous studies that the probability of sighting bucks and does in photographs was equal. Finally, we conducted an open range test by comparing a camera survey to a helicopter survey. The camera estimator underestimated known populations of marked deer in the enclosures by a mean of 32.2%. The underestimates were the result of photos/marked buck being 1.9 times greater than photos/marked doe. However, cameras captured >90% of marked bucks and >84% of marked does. Deer density and season did not affect population estimate bias but photos/deer were 1.8 times greater during winter versus autumn. On the open range test, number of unique bucks identified during camera survey was double the number of bucks sighted during a 67% coverage helicopter survey of 2,299 ha that included the 607-ha camera survey site. Estimates of doe:buck and fawn:doe ratios were 280% and 31% higher from helicopter survey than camera survey, respectively. Population estimates from baited camera surveys based on the Jacobson et al. (1997) method, though conservative, are simple to conduct and calculate and, on average, estimate a relatively high (68%) portion of the adult population.

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