Approaching the bunkhouse, we rocketed up the quarter-mile long driveway. With a foot and a half of snow, rocketing is really the only option for approach to crest the steep spots and not get stuck in the low spots. The stairs leading to the 2nd floor were covered in about 2 inches of ice topped with a 4 inch powder fluff. We opened the door to the bunkhouse and were greeted by an unexpected wall of warmth. The crew had space heaters plugged into every working outlet which transformed the bunkhouse from a rat-infested ice box to a cozy cabin retreat. Bryce and the crew had the place as clean and organized as I have ever seen it.
Over the next 8 days, Zach was going to assist me with placing and collecting 60 giving up density, aka GUD, trays. These GUD trays are part of my PhD research investigating the impacts of recolonizing wolves on deer foraging.
Zach built a fire in the wood burning stove and we sat at a table on the ground floor scooping corn and weed-free alfalfa cubes onto a scale. We packaged bags of equal weights. Then the next morning, we loaded up one quarter of the bags, trays, and trail cameras, hitched up the trailer with our rented snowmobile, and drove the icy roads to Bonaparte Recreation Area.
We spent the day inhaling the fumes and shouting over loud buzz of the snowmobiles. We waded through snow up to our knees which turned Zach’s jeans into jeancicles. We had 1 snowmobile for the two of us plus all our equipment. We had to make multiple trips back to the car to resupply. Twice we had to dig out the snowmobile because the snow was so deep it spun out. At the end of the day, we placed 10 GUDs. Five fewer than planned. Hopefully tomorrow would go smoother.
For the next three days, we repeated this routine in the three remaining study areas, each time getting more efficient. The deer trapping crew had left for Christmas, so we now had access to 2 snowmobiles. We saw some amazing views and reached some remote locations.
As soon as we placed the last tray, we started preparing to collect the trays the following day from Bonaparte, the first area. We took turns driving and warming our hands on the snowmobile’s hand-warmers. We had an efficient system of locating, picking up, and storing the GUD trays. We timed the GUDs in logging areas to coincide with Christmas when the loggers were off. We picked up those GUDs after 6pm, so we were in dark. This worked really well.
Our trail cameras captured deer, elk, a fox, a bobcat, and a few loggers. In the below trail camera photo from Bonaparte Recreation Area, you can see two deer with their head up being vigilant and one deer with its head down foraging. I am using photos like this one to determine if deer spend more time vigilant and less time foraging in areas recolonized by wolves. With the help of a dedicated team of reviewers, we will use these photos to analyze deer behavior.