New Mexico Department of Game and Fish personnel set up a number of turkey traps in Raton hoping to capture about 40 that would be moved to the Lincoln National Forest. It became evident the first morning that reaching that number would be difficult with deer continually getting inside the trap. NMDGF photo by Zen Mocarski, New Mexico Wildlife magazine Spring 2017 Vol60, Num1, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

When nothing goes right

There are days when nothing goes right

In my 14 years working for wildlife agencies, many exciting and sometimes frustrating experiences have presented themselves.

Capturing wildlife certainly can get the adrenaline flowing when everything goes as planned. However, no matter how well everything is planned, success depends on animals doing what we expect.

Above: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish personnel set up a number of turkey traps in Raton hoping to capture about 40 that would be moved to the Lincoln National Forest. It became evident the first morning that reaching that number would be difficult with deer continually getting inside the trap. NMDGF photo by Zen Mocarski.

In February, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish personnel stepped out of their work trucks into single-digit temperatures at Eagle Nest Lake with a goal to net and haul up about 60 perch for disease testing before moving thousands of the fish to Abiquiu Lake to serve as a prey base for walleye and smallmouth bass.

Personally, the day had an auspicious beginning. The winter jacket that was supposed to be in the back seat was keeping the countertop warm back home.

The fisheries personnel were busy with augers and chainsaws cutting holes in the ice. Everything was going as planned. A net was dropped through a large rectangular cut in the ice and a few crew members dropped baited hooks and lines to try and catch perch one-by-one.

Several hours later it was time to pull the net. Video was rolling and still cameras were ready in anticipation of the haul.

Nothing. Not a single fish in the net, but plenty of video and photos of an empty net.

However, thanks to the crew fishing, 15 students from Moreno High School and other anglers donating a portion of their catch, enough fish were available for testing.

Capture-relocation projects are highly dependent on the cooperation of a particular species, and even the best-laid plans can go awry.

Such was the case during a turkey capture in Raton in January 2016.

The weather was perfect, a chilly morning warming up nicely as the sun came up. I was there to get video and images for a future article possible Facebook post.

We arrived before sunrise and saw the silhouettes of about 30 turkeys in the trees lining the golf course where one of the traps had been set. Personnel baited the birds for a few days prior in hopes of increasing the odds of capturing approximately 40.

The sun began to rise and the turkeys left the roost. Everything was progressing perfectly.
Or so it seemed.

Golf courses tend to attract a wide variety of wildlife that reside in the area. In this case, not only turkeys were present in good numbers, but also deer.

After chasing a few deer away from the trap, it became evident that trapping turkeys was going to be difficult with deer present and humans hazing them away. All the commotion prevented any opportunity for the turkeys to feel comfortable.

We decided to sit back and see what would happen.

The deer proceeded to enter the turkey trap. Upon the approach of department personnel to remove a doe from the trap, it jumped through the top, tearing the netting and knocking down fencing. The doe was fine, but the trap was in shambles.

Although it took some time, the trap was repaired and all returned for round two the next day, having caught just two turkeys at a second trap site.

The deer were relentless. Hazed away, they returned. With little fear of humans, the deer never ventured far from the trap.

In the end, the two captured turkeys were released on site instead of traveling more than five hours to the planned relocation area in the Lincoln National Forest. There was some mumbling about once having liked deer, but no longer.

The frustration aside, a day in the field still beats a day in the office.

About Zen Mocarski

Zen Mocarski
Zen Mocarski is the NMDGF Information and Education Division’s magazine editor. Letters and inquiries may be sent to Zenon Mocarski, New Mexico Wildlife, P.O. Box 25122, Santa Fe, NM 87504. Telephone: (505) 476-8013. Zenon.Mocarski@state.nm.us. Digital downloads of New Mexico Wildlife are available at: Archived Editions.