Outreach Coordinator, MassWildlife
During this first week of shotgun hunting season for deer, MassWildlife biologists and technicians and Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Mary Griffin are peering into jaws, measuring antlers, and checking weights of deer checked in by hunters. This activity is part of a statewide effort to help biologists gain a better understanding of deer population and make recommendations about the number of deer that can be taken by hunters in future years.
How does this work? Deer hunters are required by law to take their deer to a check station where information about the deer is recorded by biologists. This information includes the sex, weight, and age of the deer and the diameter measurements of antlers. Once all the data are collected, MassWildlife Deer Biologist Sonja Christensen crunches the numbers to determine where deer populations are too high, how many deer might be born next year, and how many deer hunting permits should be allocated next year to hunters in various areas across the state.
People often ask me if you can tell a deer’s age by the number of points on its antlers. But points are not a factor in determining age. We look at the teeth and the pattern of wear on those teeth to tell a deer’s age. (Horse owners know this is also how you can tell the age of a horse.) If you visit a check station, you may see a "jaw board” of jaws from deer of different ages. These boards serve as a reference for biologists.
Measurements of antlers are a way to measure the quality of habitat for deer that came from a particular area. Weight and antler growth are indicators of health and, of course, knowing how many males and females have been taken by hunters is useful information to predict future reproduction.
Each year, just before the shotgun season, MassWildlife staff take part in training for deer aging skills. Cleaned jawbones with test numbers written on them litter the table at our office. Biologists and technicians work together on sample jaws before moving on to the test jaws on their own. Pictured above is Sonja helping MassWildlife Forester Jonathan McGrath, who is new to deer aging.
This week I’m working at the check station on Nantucket. Enjoy the fall!