October 03, 2013
By David Hunter Jones, OutdoorChannel.com
This is Part I of a two-part series on where deer live and why
We all have our comfort zones. Places where we feel secure enough to put our feet up and enjoy a cold pop. The couch, basement and bedroom come to mind.
The parallels between deer and humans are many, but perhaps none is more striking than that of the home range, where we let our guard down.
For deer, a piece of land must meet at least two criteria before it becomes a home range: abundant food and shelter. The best of this home range is what’s known as the core area, the place where deer spent up to 80 percent of their time.
GPS collar studies define home ranges as where deer spend 95 percent of their time. Many factors come into play when deer select a home range, but some of the more common ones are age, seasonal behavioral changes (the rut), food abundance and most importantly, hunting pressure.
Let’s begin examining the average size of a home range, and the core area within.
The size of a deer’s home range varies greatly and is directly influenced by a number of factors from geographic range, agriculture, boundaries both natural and man-made, as well as food availability.
Geographically speaking, home ranges vary based on the openness of the land the deer live in. From GPS collar studies in different states, bucks from 2 ½- to 7 ½-years old had a home range averaging 269 acres (Louisiana) and 2,261 acres (south Texas).
The spread in Louisiana was 173 on the low end to 380 on the high end, and in Texas it was 661 on the low side and a whopping 7,332 on the high side. GPS collared bucks in Maryland saw a 559-acre home range average and in Pennsylvania it is 323. That’s a lot of moving, even on the small ends.
Without the help of GPS collars, prudent hunters take a buck they see on camera and study the direction he was heading, time of day, and the surroundings where the shot was taken, then study maps to identify similar areas.
The deer was likely heading to or from a similar setting, either because the cover was right or there was food around. If you’ve got him on camera, you’re likely inside his home range.
Seasonally, though, a deer’s home range expands and contracts. The same GPS collar studies show that the home range is smallest in the summer and early fall, when deer are laying low through the summer heat. They’re around water and food sources mostly, especially when these are adjacent to heavy cover.
As the winter approaches into the pre-rut, deer are on their feet more often looking for precious protein until the rut hits, then their home range might have expanded as much as 2 1/2 times its original size. As is usually the case in the heat of the rut, all rules are thrown out the window.
As far as boundaries go, deer are less likely to cross a paved county road than they are a logging road. But once again, the incidence of deer-vehicle collisions is greater in the rut because a hot doe might be on the other side of the road.
If you find a buck’s home range, that’s a great start to patterning him. However, if you find his core area, the odds have just tipped in your favor.
A core area is the ultra-plush part of the home range. Much of the home range is area traveling to and from the core area or areas, which is roughly 1/7th or less of the home range.
Put another way, during summer, most bucks use upward of 80 percent of their core area, but in the rut, they may only use it 30 percent of the time. The more pictures you have of him in different areas, the better your chances of finding this core area.
Don’t be complacent in your trail camera surveys; if you get pictures of him, mark the spot on a map then move it to another likely spot. More pictures of him makes you feel good, but in reality doesn’t help your cause come opening day.
In the next installment, we’ll look at more GPS studies of age classes and how deer of different ages use their core areas. The findings will likely shock you.
Click here to read Part II
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