In the swamps and marshes of Dorchester County, a curious, little elk named the sika deer will be the focus of a Department of Natural Resources study to determine its reproductive tendencies.
"We are checking the reproductive rate of calves, which is the fawn of the sika," said Ed Golden, director of the state's deer program. "We think the young of the year might be bred, and that ups the reproductive rate and makes the calculation of the sika population more difficult."
Current data, Golden said, assume that the sika does not breed until it is about 18 months old.
To determine the age at which they start to breed, DNR biologists want to remove the ovaries and uteri of sika that have been harvested and test them for pregnancy.
Hunters who take female sika are asked to take their kill to special check-in stations in Dorchester County without dressing the deer first. Lists of special check-in stations will be posted.
"Sika aren't that big of a deer," said DNR regional wildlife manager Doug Wigfield, "so if a guy could just take it to Blackwater [National Wildlife Refuge] or one of the check stations and let us work with it, that would be a big help."
Wigfield said the process of removing the organs will not delay the hunter by more than a few minutes. However, field dressing should be avoided because the ovaries and uteri usually are removed as part of that process.
Sika deer, native to Eastern Asia, are most plentiful in Dorchester County but also range into parts of neighboring Worcester and ** Somerset counties. They also are found on Assateague Island National Seashore.
Sika prefer swamps and marshland and are more nocturnal than whitetail deer, feeding mostly at night and staying in thick cover during the day.
An 18-month-old sika male dresses out to about 50 pounds, while a whitetail of the same age dresses out to an average of 100 pounds.
In addition to the reproductive study that will start this season, a tagging study of sika is continuing.
Because sika deer keep to cover during hunting hours, they are especially hard to harvest, and something of a trophy following is developing, especially among hunters from other parts of the state.
Wigfield estimates that 35 percent of the hunters who go to Dorchester County for sika deer are from the Baltimore area.