Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew the exact whereabouts, habits, and patterns of that buck you’ve been hunting all fall and winter? Well, the technology is here and the research is being conducted, probably closer to your hunting grounds than you think. Coast to coast, wildlife biologists are conducting research on practically every game species in an effort to learn more about the animals we pursue. This research will further our understanding of the ecology of these animals. It will give us a better grasp of how we can be the best conservationists possible.

One of the best, most efficient, most common ways to get a glimpse into the life of an individual wild animal is to put a radio collar on it and track/log its movements. Biologists have been using radio collars for years. However, today’s technology is making it possible to gain greater amounts of data than ever before.

The radio collars of today are incredible tools. They come in two different types; VHF and GPS/Satellite. VHF (Very High Frequency) collars are the original type of tracking device researchers started using decades ago. They are also still widely used today. Each collar has a unique frequency that is emitted and can be picked up by use of a special telemetry receiver and a directional antenna. The antenna allows the researches to hone in on the general direction of the animal. The collar’s location can then be triangulated by going to several points in the vicinity of the collared animal and noting the bearings of the collar from each point. While this is a tried and true proven method, it is very time consuming. The amount of data gained is limited to the amount of time the researchers are able to put in.

Radio collar

On the other hand, most GPS collars work via satellite. They send information from the collar straight to an Internet host site and/or email. Other types of GPS collars can store data onboard, which can be downloaded wirelessly through a special receiver. This is great because they require very little field time once deployed and can produce massive amounts of information. GPS collars can be programed to give exact locations, activity levels, and mortality alerts at any interval the researchers choose. So, depending on the size of population being sampled, a VHF collar may only produce a few generalized locations. The GPS collar can give exact locations as often as every few minutes.

There are some disadvantages to using GPS collars. They are significantly more expensive. They have a larger physical size (meaning they can’t be deployed on small species, fawns, calves, etc.), and  they have shorter battery life. Even with these drawbacks, GPS collars can be worth the extra initial investment. Especially when considering the large amount of quality data collected, as well as the reduced amount of field time required. Also, as technology progresses the batteries are getting smaller and lasting longer, and the prices are coming down. This is making GPS collars a more affordable option.

Back to that buck you’ve been hunting all fall, while he may not be wearing a collar himself, chances are that an animal very similar to him IS, and that data is out there. The information that can come from collar data is outstanding! Obviously, normal movement patterns are a large part of what a collar can reveal about an animal. Collar data can also provide information on home range, core area, dispersal, hunter avoidance, habitat selection, resource selection, breeding strategy, migration routes, behavioral observations, critical habitat, disease transmission/prevention, and cause specific mortality, just to name a few.

Most of this data that has been collected and published is available to the public. However, you will not find these articles in you standard hunting/outdoor magazine. But, if you look to peer-reviewed scientific publications such as Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Society Bulletin, Nature, and many others, you may learn answers to questions you never knew you had!

As I mentioned, there are populations of collared animals being studied all over the country. Be sure to check with your state agency to find out if collared animals are legal for harvest. Depending on the type of study some researchers ask hunters not to take collared animals. This is typically the case in populations that are difficult and expensive to capture. Each collar represents a very significant investment, and the loss of data could be critical to the success or failure of a project. On the other hand, some studies require that a collared animal be treated like any other animal. So if you would normally harvest that animal then do so, if you would not normally harvest it then don’t.

It has been said time and time again,

“Hunting IS Conservation.”

This phrase is brought to life when it comes to wildlife research. Most of the research projects happening today are a direct result of sportsman dollars being applied towards conservation. These projects are largely funded by revenue generated through hunting license and permit sales, Pitman-Robertson federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition, and funds from raffle, lottery, auction, and “Governor’s” type tags. If not for the hunter’s financial contribution, little if any of this research would be possible. So, keep hunting, keep supporting conservation, and keep an eye out for collars!

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I grew up hunting deer and turkey on our family farm in central Missouri. This passion led me to pursue a degree in Wildlife Biology. I now travel the country working seasonal field research jobs and hunting as much as possible. Between work and hunts I typically spend over 300 days in the field! While I still hunt Missouri whitetails and turkey every year, I have developed a healthy appetite for back-country and adventure mountain hunts.