Fates of individuals outfitted with radiotransmitters commonly are used for estimating survival rates in populations of large animals that are hunted. Despite precautions, this practice may be subject to complex biases associated with hunter reaction to presence of radiotransmitters. To assess this potential bias we conducted an experiment using artificial deer (i.e., decoys) to measure hunters' abilities to see deer and determine if deer seen were wearing radiocollars. We used logistic regression to quantify probabilities that seeing deer and subsequently seeing radiocollars might be influenced by distance, percent visual obstruction, body orientation, hunter experience, and antler characteristics of deer. Additionally, we evaluated how experience and antler characteristics of deer might influence a hunter's decision to harvest a radiocollared deer. We found that 25.8% of the potentially observable collared deer (n = 663) were subsequently observed by hunters. Odds of observing deer and radiocollars increased 95% and 230%, respectively, for each additional log(yr) of hunting experience. Willingness to harvest radiocollared deer increased 89% for each additional log(yr) of hunting experience and 144% for large-antlered deer relative to antlerless deer. When hunting is an important source of mortality, analysts need to understand how potential biases associated with observing deer are associated with hunters' reactions to and subsequent decisions to harvest radiocollared animals. Our study suggested that presence of radiocollars may influence a deer's potential risk of being harvested and in turn bias telemetry-based estimates of survival, given that hunting mortality is the largest component of total mortality in hunted deer populations. Collar-based telemetry is used nearly universally by wildlife managers and researchers throughout North America and elsewhere to estimate and monitor the survival of big game populations that are managed through hunting. Our findings demonstrate that these estimates are likely subject to complex and systematic biases that managers should consider when evaluating future population-level effects of managed hunting.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1