Whitetail Rut Movements and Home Range from Multiple Perspectives

It's hard to believe, but October is long gone and we are in the midst of that time of year when whitetail hunters across the U.S. start to shake with anticipation because of the approaching whitetail rutting rituals.  In other words, it's time to burn some vacation time at work and take a stand in your favorite tree.       

Something that I find my hunters' mind thinking about frequently is a the home range and core areas of bucks (and does).  More specifically, what defines a buck's home range and core area?  How far off do bucks venture as the rut approaches?  I've done a little reading on this topic, but also have some thoughts of my own.    

My own hunting experiences: 

 In retrospect I believe that this buck had a fairly small home range.  

In retrospect I believe that this buck had a fairly small home range.  

I've found that many bucks that I've hunted don't wander as far as I once thought they did.  I can think of 2 examples over the last few years that proved these specific bucks didn't wander far outside their home range that I'd seen them in during the summer.  On one occasion I played cat and mouse with a respectable 9 point buck during the entire bow season with no success.  After the rut came and went the Pennsylvania (PA) rifle season arrived.  As luck would have it the buck met a successful hunter, but unfortunately it wasn't me, it was the neighbor.  The buck had been harvested no more than 500 yards from his summer hang out.  The other example comes from a buck that I had collected a few pictures of in the last days of June 2009.  When November came the deer movement was good and bucks were on their feet.  On a crisp, clear Veterans Day morning this buck was tending a doe and came past my stand at 30 yards.  Turning in my stand I quickly launched an arrow that hit its mark and after 45 seconds he fell over sideways not making it 10 more steps into the timber.  I didn't realize it at the time, but this buck was one of the bucks that I had collected pictures of from 5 months prior.  The interesting thing about this is that my camera location and stand location weren't more than 150 yards apart.  What was this bucks home range and core area?  I must have been in the zone.    

From the experts in the sport:

In a recent article that I read in American Hunter magazine, author Frank Miniter discussed these details in detail.  The article stated that GPS collar studies have found that on average a buck's home range was approximately 600 acres (In Maryland) and its core area encompassed about 90 acres of the thickest vegetative cover that you can find.  While these figures likely vary depending on your location, topography, and other factors, its still interesting to think about your own hunting areas as it relates to the buck sightings that you will and have encountered this season.  

Franks's article also focused on two other factors: Moon/Weather and Hunting Pressure.  These are key pieces to the puzzle that can't be ignored.  Furthermore he offers up that hunting properly placed funnel stands with easy entry and exit can be very effective in catching a buck during daylight hours.  I couldn't agree more on this advice.  While hunting bedding areas can have its rewards, it can also be risky especially if windy conditions creep up on you.   

From an academic perspective: 

Additional information has been captured by Duane Dieffenbach and his team at Penn State University in a deer study that has been on-going since January 2013.  As an avid bowhunter in PA, I find their results of their studies fascinating.  

Take this specific study as an example: The Life and Times of Buck 8917. (The hyperlink gives the entire story and details).   

This study started with a capture of this buck and attaching a GPS collar to follow his movements throughout the seasons.  What became quite apparent to me is that for the majority of the year, his core area was quite a bit smaller that I’ve always thought bucks would normally have.  Now I do realize that this is only 1 buck and can’t be extrapolated to categorize all bucks, but it gives us a little insight on deer habits/movements/etc.  

Something that surprised me is the increase in the number of miles comparing October movement to November movement.  In the month of October the buck covered about 23 miles over a 24 day period, but once November came the buck covered 85 miles from November 4th to November 27th.  That is a drastic increase in movement, but its also interesting to see what happens during the rifle season.  Check it out the article out at the hyperlink above.  These bucks don't get old by being stupid, thats for sure.  

Uploaded by Duane Diefenbach on 2015-10-08.

So after some of my reading and head scratching, here are some concluding thoughts on this topic.  

- Make a better attempt at trying to define the home range and core areas of the deer that I focus on in the future.  

- Pay special attention to trail camera pictures and flag those of interest for further inspection later on in the year (i.e. during hunting season).  Sometimes the summer bucks are hard to identify until August or September.

- Pay attention to changes in deer movement in my area.  It seems that deer movement patterns change slightly every few years.  Is this a generational change or adaptation to human presence?  

What are your thoughts on this subject?  I'd like to hear what you've experienced in the field.  Share your thoughts about deer home range/core areas in the comment box of this post!  

Thanks for reading!