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Wild About Utah: mule deer

Mary Heers

For the mule deer at Hardware Ranch, last Nov 30 was anything but ho-hum.

In the early morning light, the Division of Wildlife Resources was gathering in the parking lot at the Ranch. The plan for the day was to capture eight mule deer for a quick medical checkup on the overall health of the herd.

For this, they needed the help of come helicopter cowboys.

Right on cure, we heard the thunk, thunk, thunk of an incoming helicopter. A team of three men hopped out. After a quick parley, they were off

A bit like calf ropers at a rodeo, the helicopter cowboys would stop a running dee in its tracks by shooting a tangle net over it. Hopping off the helicopter, one cowboy (also known as “the mugger”) would wrestle the deer onto its side and tie its feet together. The mugger then slid the deer onto a sling, and to keep it calm, kindly secured a cover over its eyes.

The helicopter then lifted the sling, flew the deer through the air, and set it down gently in front of the waiting crew at the ranch.

The crew sprang into action. Four men raced over to the deer, slid it onto a rope stretcher, and carried it to a hanging scale.

“76 pounds’” the researcher called out. A graduate student with a clipboard wrote it down.

Next stop: a white folding table. The crew surrounded the deer, brandishing some familiar tools. They took the deer’s temperature, a blood sample, a hair sample. One man whipped out a yellow measuring tape that looked exactly like the one in my grandmother’s sewing basket.

Then they looked into the deer’s mouth.

“Three years,” the researcher said with absolute certainty.

“How did you know that?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Easy,” he said. But he admitted that after five years, you can only be sure of a deer’s age if you look at the tooth under a microscope and count the rings, just like counting rings on a tree.

Then I spotted something I’d never seen before- a black box that measured the depth of fat on the deer’s rump A very well fed deer will head into winter with 1 inch (25 mm) of fat reserves. A deer with less that 9mm will probably not make it through a hard winter. This herd was coming off a very dry summer, a genuine cause for worry. But today it was all good news. The fall rains had greened up the hillsides in time for the deer to plump up.

And then it was done. The deer was carried to the perimeter of the parking lot and released. As it bounced up the hillside to rejoin the herd, I was reminded of the time when I was coming down the slopes off the Wellsville ridgeline, and had sat down to rest. Suddenly three does poked their heads through the dense undergrowth. We took a long curious look at each other.

I remember thinking how beautiful they were, with their long, elegant ears. But they also looked vulnerable Coyotes, cougars and cars will continue to take a heavy toll on mule deer. New challenges will crop up. But this day last November, it was all good news for the health of the herd at Hardware Ranch. And all cheers for the Division of Wildlife Resources for a job well done.

Mary got hooked on oral histories while visiting Ellis Island and hearing the recorded voices of immigrants that had passed through. StoryCorps drew her to UPR. After she retired from teaching at Preston High, she walked into the station and said she wanted to help. Kerry put her to work taking the best 3 minutes out of the 30 minute interviews recorded in Vernal. Passion kicked in. Mary went on to collect more and more stories and return them to the community on UPR's radio waves. Major credits to date: Utah Works, One Small Step, and the award winning documentary Ride the Rails.