Hot deer: Not unusual but getting more so

deer1I heard from a number of people about an earlier post on the wrap-up of the year’s first deer hunt on the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation. It was a productive hunt, but most of the comments or questions were about the two deer that had to be retained because they had radioactive contamination.

Because of waste areas and pollution associated with historic nuclear operations at the government’s Oak Ridge facilities, all deer must be checked for radioactivity before hunters can take them from the premises.

Neil Giffen, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s wildlife coordinator, said the number of contaminated deer is typically less than 2 percent of the total, and the number found among the 238 killed during the first hunt fell into the normal range.

Years ago, when there were a number of radioactive waste ponds near ORNL and other active waste sites, the number of rad deer was much higher. As the cleanup has progressed, the numbers have dropped.

There are a couple of areas on the Oak Ridge reservation’s hunting grid, both to the west and one to the south of ORNL, where many of the hot deer have been taken since the hunts began in 1985. In one of those sites, 23 of the total 139 deer killed had to be retained because of radioactivity.

Meanwhile, this year’s hunt was pretty big, with more deer harvested from both of last year’s Oak Ridge hunts.

Giffen said there were probably multiple factors. He indicated the deer population may have been greater because of the cancellation of one of last year’s hunts.

“It’s really the height of the rut right now, and deer are very active,” he said. “That probably had something to do it with.”

Two more deer hunts are scheduled at the Oak Ridge reservation later this year, Nov. 15-16, and Dec. 13-14.

Organized hunts on the federal reservation began in the mid-1980s as a way to trim the size of the Oak Ridge deer population and reduce the number of deer/vehicle accidents on local roads.

Photo: University of Tennessee students examine deer following a 2008 hunt, looking for tooth wear and other characteristics of the deer population. (ORNL photo/Neil Giffen)

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