Helicopter Use In Ranch Management

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First & Foremost

The helicopter is not the “end all, be all” to wildlife and land management. It is simply a tool in the chest, and when deployed correctly, can be a highly expedient and efficient tool. It is not the “single tool” for management practices and should not be relied upon as such.

In surveying, diversity is the key, all applicable tools should be utilized to gather an overall summary of environmental conditions. Aerial Surveys, cameras, visual observation and browse stress recognition are all valuable “tools” and should be used collectively to gather broad based information of conditions on the property.

The helicopter fills a unique survey role in the sense that it is an unbiased survey, as the entirety of the ranch is sampled in a patterned flight for a percentage of coverage This is in opposition to a spotlight survey. As Spotlight surveys are conducted on roads, they are naturally biased as the roads typically favor travel to and from water & feeding locations and fields with active farming or improvements.

Ranch Predator Control

In addition to aerial means, The Ranch relies heavily upon snares & mechanical traps for diversity in its Predator Control Program. Active patrolling operations  commensurate with trapping and snaring, gives one an advantage in seeing what is specifically moving around on the ground. It is near impossible to see animal tracks or scat from the air. These would likely be oversights from the aircraft.

Despite using an R44 capable of carrying 3 passengers, I never carry more than one gunner for serious aerial management. Multiple gunners in an aircraft is largely recreational, and typically only effective in open areas such as large fields.

“The Clock is Ticking” is an accurate summary for areas in which vision can be highly obscured by annual vegetation growth.

It is impossible to know precisely when the first freeze will occur and how long it will take for the leaves to fall from the trees & the summer grasses to brown and die. Conversely, it is also impossible to tell when the mesquite and other trees will begin to bloom in the spring. I have seen the freezes as late as the second week in December, and The Mesquites begin to bloom as early as the first week of March.

This presents a very narrow window of opportunity for aggressive predator control. Further, practical constraints during this time frame become winter weather in January and February and simply the limited number of daylight hours during these months.

Typically, Coyotes begin to seek their mates ( “pairing up”) in March and April. Once the coyotes are paired up and preparing for the birth of their young, they are very difficult to hunt and locate. It is fair to say, if they are on your property at this point, it is near impossible to stop them, and whatever damage they may do to fawns & calves may become inevitable.

Costly Mistakes

Despite having unfettered access to a Helicopter, in calendar year 2017, I failed to conduct a density survey in the winter while the leaves were off the trees. While the survey in the fall correctly reflected the age structure, fawn recruitment and general animal health, the density of animals per acre was off. This led to a less aggressive harvest. The result was essentially a “lost year”.

The upward trend desired for 2018 was lost due to elevated stress levels in the environment, which were exacerbated by an overpopulation on a deer per acre basis.


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Stephens County, TX