Blaine High School class collars whitetail deer for study

Seniors in Blaine High School’s outdoor adventures class weren’t motivated to participate in senior skip day this year, unofficially scheduled for April 14.

BHS seniors Brandon Hurd, left, and Zack Miller remove wood ticks from the deer. Photos by Olivia Koester

BHS seniors Brandon Hurd, left, and Zack Miller remove wood ticks from the deer. Photos by Olivia Koester

They wanted to be in class so they could help capture and collar a whitetail deer in Bunker Hills Regional Park.

A group of students even chose to be at school Sunday night, April 13. They worked with teachers Larry Osmek and Tim Riordan to set up a trap, borrowed from Stillwater High School.

The next day, a deer was captured.

There was a strong possibility the deer wouldn’t be appropriate to collar. Bucks, whose necks swell during rutting season, and fawns, still growing, risk choking in a collar, Osmek told students before they went to see the deer. In order to collar, it had to be a doe, and the doe had to survive the trauma of capture and sedation.

Peggy Callahan, executive director of the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, Minn., was on hand to sedate the deer. She told students what had to happen before she could administer the first dose of drugs. When the deer noticed the group, members were to sprint toward it and collapse the trap to prevent the deer from injuring itself, she said.

Though the winds were ripe for a successful capture, blowing the humans’ scent away from the deer, there was one hitch: There were other deer in the area who alerted the captured deer that humans were converging on it.

Panicked, the deer gave itself a couple of abrasions, but nothing serious, Callahan said as she sedated the animal – a pregnant doe, approximately two years old.

Capturing a deer the day after a trap is set, and a doe at that, “it’s just not something you can count on,” Callahan said. The class was very lucky, she added.

Callahan explained what she was doing every step of the way, allowing students to perform a variety of tasks, everything from taking the deer’s temperature to pulling ticks off of its coat.

Students needed blood work and fecal matter to send in for testing to get a more complete picture of the deer’s situation.

Finally, Osmek attached the collar to track the animal’s movements in the coming years, and Callahan reversed the sedation with a drug to help get the deer off on its way.

About an hour-and-a-half after collapsing the trap, the deer was up on its feet – extremely unsteady at first.

Studying deer in urban environments

The outdoor adventures class will keep an eye on the deer’s movements for the next two to three years, until the battery in the collar quits. The collar can be recovered and placed on another deer at that time.

The premise of outdoor adventures is to get kids outside performing hands-on science, Osmek said, to show students that “this is a career, that people do study wildlife everyday.”

For the past 13 years, outdoor adventures students have used radio telemetry to track raccoons; squirrels; and once, before a hawk swooped it up, a pheasant.

“We kind of upped the ante this year,” Osmek said of the decision to track a whitetail deer, a first for the class.

It wouldn’t be possible without the help of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association’s North Suburban Chapter. The Ham Lake Lions Club and Rotary Club of Blaine-Ham Lake were also major donors.

The GPS collar cost $2,500, and the MDHA fronted the school half of the money.

The collar will allow the class to follow the deer’s movements with satellite technology longer term, studying how deer live in an urban environment.

“We’ve got a perfect site for it,” said Osmek, referring to Blaine High School’s location adjacent to Bunker Hills, where an estimated 150 deer call home, he said.

Four members from the MDHA’s North Suburban Chapter were present at the capture April 14. Joe Langevin supports the project because “it gets kids involved in the environment and nature.”

It’s the interactive nature of outdoor adventures that gets seniors like Steven Cherucheril to enroll in the class. “It’s known to be the best class to take as a senior,” he said.

It’s a good thing Brandon Hurd didn’t participate in senior skip day: “This is the highlight of this trimester so far,” he said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]

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