Deer hunters can use their smartphones in order to assist the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission with wildlife management efforts. The AGFC’s free Deer Hunting Observational Survey is part of the AGFC app that can be downloaded to either Apple or android smartphones. This mobile survey quickly allows hunters to record sightings of game species such as deer, bear, quail, turkey, and furbearers and also nongame species such as feral hogs while hunting.
AGFC Deer Program Coordinator Ralph Meeker is hoping hunters will provide useful data from the field through the app.
"Deer observation data provides the deer program with needed information, and the more hunters who submit information, the more accurate the data will be," Meeker said. "Harvest data gives us a record of what was killed. Hunter observation data gives us an idea of what was left."
"Hunter observation data is not a smoking gun to deer management here in Arkansas, but it is an important piece of a larger puzzle," says Meeker. In addition to hunter observation data, the deer program receives biological data collected from approximately 700 Deer Management Assistance Program clubs across the state; from statewide incidental deer observations collected by AGFC employees, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service within the months of August and September; and from hunter harvest data. All of this is analyzed in order to make decisions on deer management by deer zone.
Blake Sasse, Nongame Mammal Program Coordinator for the AGFC, says the hunter observation survey has been used since 2004; however, the process when completely electronic in 2014. Originally the AGFC ran the program through the Arkansas Bowhunters Association, asking them to fill out a data sheet recording hours hunted and how many animals they saw. The AGFC app makes the data entry much easier for the array of animals being surveyed and also provides for a cleaner collection of information.
"We use that information to help track trends in populations in the species," Sasse said. "With deer we go into a little more depth, such as ratio of bucks to does, antlers of various sizes for bucks. … It’s definitely part of the long-term monitoring program for all of these species, and we’re trying to increase the awareness of the survey and how hunters can help." Sasse says the app and hunter-reported surveys also enable the AGFC to keep up with the trends in the feral hog population statewide.
Meeker said that at one time, the AGFC received more than 20,000 hours of hunter-reported time in the field sightings, but that number last year had fallen to 6,700 hours. Sasse adds, "We’re just wanting good sampling from all over the state. If we could get 1,000 more hunters reporting through the app, that would be a big help for us."