Flying Mule Deer

Flying Mule Deer: Helicopter Crew Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Helicopter Crew
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Incoming Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Incoming
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Incoming Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Incoming
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Helicopter Carrying Mule Deer Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Helicopter Carrying Mule Deer
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Health Check Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Health Check
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

For the mule deer at Hardware Ranch, last Nov 30 was anything but ho-hum.

In the early morning light, the Division of Wildlife Resources was gathering in the parking lot at the Ranch. The plan for the day was to capture eight mule deer for a quick medical checkup on the overall health of the herd.

For this, they needed the help of come helicopter cowboys.

Right on cue, we heard the thunk, thunk, thunk of an incoming helicopter. A team of three men hopped out. After a quick parley, they were off

A bit like calf ropers at a rodeo, the helicopter cowboys would stop a running deer in its tracks by shooting a tangle net over it. Hopping off the helicopter, one cowboy (also known as “the mugger”) would wrestle the deer onto its side and tie its feet together. The mugger then slid the deer onto a sling, and to keep it calm, kindly secured a cover over its eyes.

The helicopter then lifted the sling, flew the deer through the air, and set it down gently in front of the waiting crew at the ranch.

The crew sprang into action. Four men raced over to the deer, slid it onto a rope stretcher, and carried it to a hanging scale.

“76 pounds’” the researcher called out. A graduate student with a clipboard wrote it down.

Next stop: a white folding table. The crew surrounded the deer, brandishing some familiar tools. They took the deer’s temperature, a blood sample, a hair sample. One man whipped out a yellow measuring tape that looked exactly like the one in my grandmother’s sewing basket.

Then they looked into the deer’s mouth.

“Three years,” the researcher said with absolute certainty.

“How did you know that?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Easy,” he said. But he admitted that after five years, you can only be sure of a deer’s age if you look at the tooth under a microscope and count the rings, just like counting rings on a tree.

Then I spotted something I’d never seen before- a black box that measured the depth of fat on the deer’s rump A very well fed deer will head into winter with 1 inch (25 mm) of fat reserves. A deer with less that 9mm will probably not make it through a hard winter. This herd was coming off a very dry summer, a genuine cause for worry. But today it was all good news. The fall rains had greened up the hillsides in time for the deer to plump up.

And then it was done. The deer was carried to the perimeter of the parking lot and released. As it bounced up the hillside to rejoin the herd, I was reminded of the time when I was coming down the slopes off the Wellsville ridgeline, and had sat down to rest. Suddenly three does poked their heads through the dense undergrowth. We took a long curious look at each other.

I remember thinking how beautiful they were, with their long, elegant ears. But they also looked vulnerable. Coyotes, cougars and cars will continue to take a heavy toll on mule deer. New challenges will crop up. But this day last November, it was all good news for the health of the herd at Hardware Ranch. And all cheers for the Division of Wildlife Resources for a job well done.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Mary Heers,
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Why the DWR captures deer, other big game animals with helicopters each winter, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, February 21, 2020,

Episode 8: Flying deer, Wild Podcast, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, May 19, 2020,

Beaver Tail Strike

Beaver Tail Strike: Beaver swimming Courtesy NPS,  J Schmidt, Photographer
Beaver swimming
Courtesy NPS,
J Schmidt, Photographer
When I first saw a beaver in Cache Valley I thought I’d seen an alligator. I was sitting in the front of a canoe when a large head shot past the bow followed by a black tail that flew into the air and came down on the water with a resounding slap

“What was that?” I asked
“I don’t know,” my friend answered
“I think it was an alligator,” I said
By then then creature had disappeared and we paddled on.

I found out later that tail slapping is a common beaver behavior. Its a warning shot before the beaver dives for cover.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more. It came as a surprise to me to find out that when a beaver builds a dam, it is actually building a home. Inside a sturdy wall of sticks, rocks and mud, the beavers build a living space above the water line. It’s dry – and its safe because it can only be entered by swimming through underwater tunnels. Not a problem for a beaver who can swim underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

When the surface of the pond freezes over, the females will give birth. Its an extended family life – an adult pair, the yearlings, and the new kits. When winter is long, and with so many mouths to feed, the beavers have perfected their food storage. Hauling their favorite food, aspen , back to the lodge, they jam it into the muddy bottom of the pond. There is stays, fresh and crisp like any refrigerated food, until its needed.

When fur trappers arrived in Northern Utah in the 1800’s, European hat makers had discovered that felted beaver wool made the very best hats. Bear Lake became a hot spot. The historical marker just north of Garden City tells us,

“Donald MacKenzie, Jim Bridger, and a host of famous beaver hunters operated here. Two major summer frolics and trade fairs brought plenty of excitement to Bear Lake in 1827 and 1828.”

Trappers were harvesting up to 500 lbs a year. But by 1840, the beavers had become almost extinct. European fashion in hats moved on to silk – a good thing for the hat makers as well because the mercury used in the felting of beaver wool caused all kinds of neurological disorders. Its no joke the Hatter in Alice in Wonderland is mad.

Back in northern Utah, the beaver population slowly rebuilt, but the human population also grew and conflicts arose. Recently a farmer in Benson became irate when beavers began to redirect the flow of water through his irrigation canals

Beaver Health Exam Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
Beaver Health Exam
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
It’s the job of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to live trap and relocate these beavers. I was lucky to be allowed into the loop at this point.

When I picked up one of the smaller beavers, I could feel its heart going a mile a minute under my fingers. But it settled down as I sat in a chair holding it against my chest while it got a quick physical checkup.

Holding the beaver close, I had a good look at the nibble fingers on its front feet, the webbing on its back feet that can paddle along at 6mph, and the marvelous flat tail, a good rudder for swimming, a prop for standing on land, and perfect for slapping the water’s surface.

Take my word for it, once you’ve seen this slap up close, you won’t forget it.

I’m Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US NPS, Yellowstone Collection, J. Schmidt, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text & Voice: Mary Heers
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020,

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018,

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2015, June 15, 2015,

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 20-10, August 16, 2012,

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011,

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah Water Watch, Extension, Utah State University,

Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 189 pp. Online at:

Macfarlane W.W., Wheaton J.M., and M.L. Jensen. 2014. The Utah Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool: A Decision Support and Planning Tool. Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab, Utah State University, Prepared for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Logan, Utah, 135 pp. Available at:

Wheaton JM. 2013. Scoping Study and Recommendations for an Adaptive Beaver Management Plan. Prepared for Park City
Municipal Corporation. Logan, Utah, 30 pp.

Beaver Reintroduction Looks Positive for Stream Restoration
in Northern Utah, Utah Forest News, USU Forestry Extension, Utah State University, Volume 18, Number 3, 2014,

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Dam Good! Beavers May Restore Imperiled Streams, Fish Populations, Today, Utah State University, July 07, 2016,

Restoring Degraded Waters, One Pest at a Time, Utah State Magazine, Utah State University, December 7, 2021,

Antelope Island Bison

Bison Bull on Antelope Island Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Bison Bull on Antelope Island
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Bison Pair Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Bison Pair
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The sun was just coming up when I drove onto Antelope Island State Park on Oct 30 Bison were grazing on both sides of the road, and I had to stop a few times and wait as they lumbered across the road. But by the time I reached the Garr Ranch on the southern end of the island, I felt I had driven onto the set of a Hollywood western. 250 volunteer cowboys were saddled up on their horses and were getting their final instructions. At 8 am they spread out in a long line and began their slow walk north. Ahead of them the bison began to move. This was the day of the annual bison round-up. By the end of the day, the more than 500 bison on the island were milling about in the sturdy corrals in the northern part of the island.

After giving the bison a day to catch their breath, the park managers started to move the bison through the corrals until, one by one, they stepped on the scales. The young calves born that spring weighed in at about 400 lbs and the old bulls topped the scales at over 2000. The next step was into the restraining chute. It was time to get vaccinated and have a quick medical checkup.

Over the clanging and banging of the solid metal pens, I could occasionally hear the vet cry, “Pregnant!” This seemed to be the magic password, as the front gates of the chute would fly open and the heifer would dash off into a pen that would return her back into the island. The others needed to wait.

This whole story began in 1873 when 12 privately owned bison were sold to the owners of Antelope Island. These twelve thrived in this harsh environment. They grew shaggy warm winter coats and plowed the deepest snow drifts, swinging their massive heads back and forth, down to the grass below. A bison will eat 40 pounds of grass a day. Antelope Island is only 15 miles long and 5 miles wide There is just enough grass to support a herd of 500. Since there are no wolves or natural predators on the island, the park managers will need to sell the excess numbers at an online auction.

In the 1500’s, an estimated 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains. The Native Americans revered them and harvested them mindfully. They found a use for every bison part – including the stomach, which proved a reliable water jug. But the western expansion of white settlers led to the deliberate slaughter of the bison. By the end of the 19th c, only 300 bison were left in the wild.

The chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian National Museum, William Hornaday, spend two summer in remote corners of Montana harvesting and old bull, a calf, and 4 young bison. He brought the hides back to Washington and built a display that he believed would be the only chance for future generations to see this vanishing species.

In Yellowstone National Park, 2 army men patrolling the park on cross country skis witnessed a poacher shoot a bison. The poacher had put down his rifle and was busy severing the trophy head. The two soldiers quietly skied up close enough to apprehend him with their revolver. Still the park’s bison herd dwindled to 23 -until 1902 when he army purchased 21 more from private owners.

The Yellowstone herd now numbers over 5,000.

Today, between parks, private herds, and tribal lands the bison now number half a million.

Bison have come roaring back from the very edge of extinction.

This is Mary Heers and I’m wild about Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Mary Heers,
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

US FWS Bison Images:

Clifton, Jameson, Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison, Wild About Utah, June 1, 2015,

Boling, Josh, The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, January 14, 2019,

2021 Bison Roundup, Antelope Island State Park, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oct 30, 2021,

Cabrero, Alex, Annual bison roundup held at Antelope Island State Park, KSL TV, October 30, 2021,

Cox, Erin, Hundreds of volunteers gather to participate in annual bison roundup at Antelope island, Fox 13, Scripps Local Media,

River Otters

Otter Courtesy Pixabay
Courtesy Pixabay
This summer, while running on the river trail, I saw an otter. A real life river otter. It leapt out of the water and darted into a pocket between rocks on the bank, with a trout in its mouth! It was one of those moments, where I was confronted with something that was, in my mind, so wildly outside the realm of possibility that it took me a minute to figure out what the blurred brown weasel-shaped thing even was. As soon as it registered as an otter I squealed with excitement, and subsequently side-tackled my border collie, whose desire to sniff and lick all new things would have ruined the moment for me, and our semi-aquatic friend.

When I lived in California, sea otters were a beloved, but fairly common sighting. I knew exactly where I could paddle my kayak to watch them floating on their backs, breaking open whatever mollusk they had plucked from the ocean floor to eat. I delighted in seeing them each time. But I took the fact that I could see them easily, for granted. We humans do that, I think. The things that we see often in our daily lives melt into the backdrop of the everyday, and can even cease to excite us.

When I first came to Utah, I put the notion of otters out of my mind. The first time someone mentioned river otters existing in this dry place with its hot summers and snow-filled winters, I think I may have laughed in their face. And then I whipped out my phone, and sought insights from the all-knowing Google “River otters in Utah?”. Once I knew that the freshwater cousins of the beloved marine mammals from home existed here, I desperately wanted to see them. That’s another thing I think most of us do. We accept truths in what we can see, feel, or touch. And if the thing is elusive, we want to see it all the more.

I live in Cache Valley, where the wild world feels much closer than it does in a big city. But I still sometimes feel suffocated by the human world. Concrete is slathered over much of the ground I walk on, and unless I hike deep into the pockets of the canyon, I can usually hear cars, or see folks on trails. It feels like so much of our world is discovered. And in the age of social media, places that were once far off the beaten path, now have well worn, heavily trodden trails sometimes even with lines of people flocking there. But I don’t have to blaze my own trail, or seek out some piece of so-called wilderness to feel wonder at the world around me. I took ocean otters for granted, and was given a chance at redemption with the river otter. I may never see another one again, but I know they’re there, swimming along as I run the river trail.

Despite the fact that 80 million miles of roads twist and turn across our planet. Or that human impacts hit just about everywhere, like the trash in the bottom of the Mariana Trench.,

There are still moments of wonder, where the natural world brings forth a complete surprise, a moment of stillness, some event that pops in unexpectedly as if to whisper “I’m still here!” and “there’s so much you don’t know”. I hope this gives you permission to take a moment and look around, take in all the natural world has to offer. Stop and look at the things your mind has melted into the background.

It doesn’t have to be a river otter, it could be the Sumac tree in your yard turning red. It could be excitement from seeing a new bird on your feeder. It has been raining as I write this. I’m going to go sit and listen to it.

I’m Ellis Juhlin, and I’m Wild About Utah

Images: Courtesy Pixabay,
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Ellis Juhlin, USU Department of Biology, Utah State University
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Pieces by Ellis Juhlin on Wild About Utah

North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis, The National Wildlife Federation,

North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis, National Geographic Photo Ark,

Lebing, Karen(Photographer), River Otters at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, August 1, 2019

Yellowstone River Otters, Courtesy National Geographic Wild:

Anifam (Animal Family) Channel, Sea Otters vs. River Otters: How to Distinguish Them???