I'm trying to estimate the number of deer in our area. After the last snowfall, I checked a woodlot (about 8 acres) and found 9 fresh beds - 5 on one side, 4 on the other. Can I assume that there were approximately 9 deer there - or do deer bed multiple times during a 24 hour period?
A deer will bed often, but if you go out right after a snow, counting beds can be a pretty accurate census. Also, it is often you will see a large bed, with 1-2 small beds, meaning a doe and fawn, or a single large bed that is always by itself, etc.. In this way you can learn to destinguish they types of deer...1 fawn, 2 fawns and a doe, single large deer, etc.., as well as numbers.
Coupled with the number of beds you might also look for heaps of pellets/deer feces. This will add to your information on how many deer are there.
Also make note of how the deer lay in their bed. The wind will be at their back and their eyes scan the area in front. Of course ears come into play.
You might notice a deer seems to by laying the opposite way, according to what I say above. There is a reason for this. If the wind is from, say, the SW and the deer is facing SW as it lays in its bed, there is some anomoly that is causing the wind to be deflected so it is coming over the deer's back, even though he is facing the general, undeflected wind.
If we use them, deer beds can add to our knowledge of deer in general, the local conditions that affect the deer, and deer numbers (especially when pellet counts are included in the data that is gathered.)
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