Meet the Minnesota DNR team that tracks fawns for survival study

At 4:32 a.m. at the Minnesota DNR’s Farmland Wildlife Research Headquarters; wildlife biologist Tyler Obermoller is leading his DNR team for the third year of a fawn survival study.  For fourteen days in row, the group is gathering before dawn.

"We are dealing with some weather issues, so we are kind of delayed right now," says Obermoller. "If the sun is shining, we’ll be done by 8:30-9 o’clock.

Once the skies clear barely an hour later, the drone heads up. Using thermal imaging technology the team can spot and zoom in on animals in their natural habitat, without disturbing them.

‘This is what the camera looks like from 200 feet. You would never see anything," says Steve Fines of Fines Aerial Imaging.  "Without the thermal imaging to pick it up, you wouldn’t have a chance."

Once a fawn is spotted, coordinates are shared with the capture crew, and we’re off on the first quiet quest to go find it.

"You can see where the drone is at, so the fawn is just right over there," says Obermoller.

Trying to reduce the trauma to the fawn, the team works as quickly as possible. Drawing blood, measuring hoof growth, length, weight, and most importantly placing a GPS collar on the fawn which can record tracking information and grow with the young fawn’s size for up to 18 months. A study such as this hasn’t been done by the DNR in the southern farmland region of the state in more than 20 years.

Since then the landscape has changed quite a bit," says Obermoller. "Coyote density has increased quite a bit, so really we’re just trying to get an idea of what survival is on the landscape, and that can help us manage, whether it’s manager for habitat or manage the number of tags we are allocating to deer each season."

Within five minutes, he’s on his own again. With adrenaline still pumping the next fawn is just 100 feet away.

"Right there got it!"

Obermoller and team have been repeating this early morning adventure of finding fawns every day since May 22 with a goal of finding 100 fawns to complete the study. It’s critical to find the fawns as soon after they are born as possible because even at 7 days old, these four-legged friends would outrun everyone here.

"We put a flag down there, and we’ll go back one to three days later to do some habitat measurements and that’s an indication. did they pick a good site? especially if later on they happen to be preyed upon by coyotes, then it’s ok maybe they didn’t pick a great location.

After meeting the fawn, the team will get a text and email if the collar goes silent for eight hours indicating the fawn has died or been killed. Either way, the Minnesota DNR will learn from all of it and better gauge the deer population's current mortality rates.

"We want these collars to stay on at least 12 months," says Obermoller.  "So we can get that migration information in the winter and dispersal information in the springtime."

Before our day was done the capture crew added collars to a set of twins and look forward to the information their new necklace will help provide, potentially for years to come.

"It’s amazing, it doesn’t lose its luster every time," says Obermoller. "I’ve been doing this for three years and every time we go in on a fawn it’s amazing and a lot of fun."