Learning in the wilds of south central Wyoming

Nine students at Emporia State University took the trip of a lifetime — participating in hands-on research of mule deer in south central Wyoming, taking classroom experiences to a higher level.

During the 2016-17 winter break, professor Dr. Bill Jensen, associate professor of Biology at Emporia State, accompanied students from the student chapter of a national organization, The Wildlife Society, on a trip to south central Wyoming to assist Wyoming Game & Fish wildlife biologist Tony Mong in trapping and tagging mule deer.

Students had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience in wildlife population research and monitoring techniques, and learn about many of the diverse habitats of wildlife that are present in the region.

“We’ve been working on the mule deer project for about six years,” Mong said. “This project was born out of a need for information for management of the mule deer in this area and to gather information to give us the best data we could have to make management decisions for mule deer. This project rolled into more and more about not only the data we are collecting, but also allowing people to get involved in management and research type of activities.”

Several volunteers are required to perform the necessary tasks when tagging and processing mule deer, Mong said.

“We decided it would be great to get some students out here and help me with the trapping,” he said. “This type of trapping requires a large number of volunteers to be able to hold animals down while we work up the animals and collect the information we need. So it’s a great pairing of volunteers as well as professionals to gather that data we need to manage these herds.”

During their week in Wyoming, four mule deer were captured, processed and released — despite blizzard conditions at times.

“We were able to capture four mule deer this week and two of those were large enough bucks that were able to attach satellite collars on so that will directly impact some research we are doing on mule deer bucks and movements so that was a real positive for the week,” Mong said.

During the research, a drop net trapping method is used.During the research, a drop net trapping method is used.

“The drop net trapping method is used in many different applications from ungulates to birds,” Mong said. “For our study it allows large numbers of captures to be done at a much lower dollar cost than hiring a capture crew and it has proven to be a very safe method of capture as well. Over the last six years and over 350 captures we have had less than 1 percent mortality caused from capturing animals using the drop net method.”

The trip allowed Emporia State students to partner with biologists in wildlife management efforts.

“Trips like this provide us with opportunities that you don’t get in the classroom and even opportunities that you can’t offer during a field trip near ESU” Jensen said. “Through those sorts of professional connections we’ve been able to come up with opportunities to help out other biologists and give our students some experiences they can put on their resume or at least know that they’ve been exposed to various experiences in biology.”

Emporia State junior Ecology and Biodiversity major Caite Schoeck said the experience was powerful for her.

“This trip has given me the opportunity to talk to professional biologists from many different organizations and essentially get the feel for what these organizations are, what they do and how the differ,” Schoeck said. “It gives me a better idea of what I can do with this major and confirming that I will actually enjoy the career I could get with my degree. I learned so much.”

The trip also exposed Schoeck to experiences she had never had before.

“I had never touched a live deer,” she said. “I didn’t realize fully how big they were. I knew they’re powerful, but being on a 5 by 3 buck and my only job was to hold down the front hoof and there’s times where I was struggling to do that. I have a much greater respect for how powerful some of these animals I might end up working with are.”

Second-year graduate student Bill Blair said the trip will benefit his future.

“This will help my career for sure,” Blair said. “Just having this experience and the knowledge set to help other people will help my career. Emporia State gave me this wonderful opportunity to come out to Wyoming.”

Mong said high-impact, in-the-field learning is rare for undergraduate students.

“Experiences like this for wildlife undergraduate students especially are few and far between. So the ability to be able to come out here and do projects like this is a real boost not only for research but also for their careers because they are gaining experience that most other undergraduate students across the United States will not be able to gain,” he said.

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Learning in the wilds of south central Wyoming