Home, Home on the Range II

Age class and sex differences in whitetail's core area use

Home, Home on the Range II
The author first found this buck in late summer in Alabama. Note the thick velvet.

This is Part II of a two-part series on where deer live and why

Click here to read Part I

In the first of this two-part series, we looked at the average size of a whitetail’s home range and the factors that influenced it. In this installment, we’ll look at how different age classes use their home range and the size difference among bucks of different ages.

Across the board, does are much more likely to be homebodies than bucks. That is, they have smaller home ranges and don’t wander as much, even during the rut. Finding a home range that is shared by many does can be a boon come the rut, because bucks will be more apt to visit a hotbed of does than an area with fewer does.


Age differences

One thing to bear in mind as we study deer home ranges is that all deer are individuals. In other words, what applies to one deer may not be accurate for the rest of a herd, much less another individual in the same area.


The following numbers were gathered through GPS collar studies presented at QDMA’s National Convention. If you’ve not attended one, it’s well worth your time and effort. You can gain years’ worth of hunting know-how in a few seminars and demonstrations. Check out www.QDMA.com for more details.

In a study of six 2 1/2-year-old deer, the average home range size was 2,278 acres while the core area was 356 acres. A study of 12 middle-aged deer, those 3 ½- and 4 ½-years-old, had a home range average of 1,233 acres and an average core area size of 180 acres. These deer had found a core area they were comfortable with and had higher site fidelity.

A sample of 23 mature deer, those 5 ½- and 6 ½-years-old, had slightly larger home ranges and core areas, 1,366 and 210 acres respectively. For some reason, these mature deer felt the need to move more.

The smallest home range and core area belong to old deer, those 7 ½-years-old and older. Their average home range was 1,055 acres and 151 acres for a core area.


Remember that a home range is defined as the area that bucks spent 95 percent of their time year-round. Naturally, as the rut approaches and winter comes, the deer are on their feet more. Let’s look at how much more.

The buck was again spotted in a different area, meaning the deer’s core area was not far off.

The buck was again spotted in a different area, meaning the deer’s core area was not far off.

Timing

Catching a deer — especially a mature buck — on its feet during hunting season is magical. While some folks would rather be lucky than good and “wing it” each time out in the woods, hunters who experience higher success rates know the bucks that live on their property.


They have several stands available to them based on wind direction and time of day based on scouting intel and trail cam recon. But come the rut, the one thing that remains true is that nothing can be counted on.

Sure, that drop tine came to that apple tree every day at dusk, but if the choice is some rotten apples or a hot doe, guess which option ol’ drop tine is taking. But before the rut, both bucks and does are eminently patternable.

As stated before, does are more likely to be homebodies than bucks. They simply don’t travel as much. For most of the year, bucks and does are both regular homebodies, but come winter, both are spending more time on their feet looking for nourishment.

Before the rut, bucks spend roughly 75 percent of their time in their core area. Most of the other 25 percent is spent traveling to and from it. During this time, does spend roughly 70 percent of their time in their core area. Pre-rut is where the moving starts.

Bucks spend about 55 percent of their time in their core area. The rest is either feeding or scoping out does. Does are in their core area 65 percent of the time pre-rut.

When the rut is on fire, bucks are on the prowl almost non-stop. Their core area use drops to about 35 percent! That’s a lot of moving.

Does are still in the mid-60s percentagewise. Remember the statement above about finding a core area loaded with does? Now is the time to pay it a visit. Since they’re not in their home range, the bucks are probably loitering nearby.

Post-rut sees things returning to normal, with bucks using their core area nearly 60 percent of the time, while does are still in the mid-60s. Not surprisingly, during all phases of the rut and throughout the year, most movement is done at dawn and dusk.

What is surprising, however, is the frequency that deer move at other times of the day.

Another GPS collar study stressed the importance of finding and exploiting these core areas.

In the rut, the average distance moved by a deer between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. was nearly double that of the same deer during the summer months. They averaged 1 3/4 miles a day in the summer and almost three miles in the rut. As the air cools and does come into estrous, the deer are on their feet more.

By the time gun season started, pressure was effecting all deer on this particular WMA, and all further photos were at night. The deer was never seen during shooting hours.

By the time gun season started, pressure was effecting all deer on this particular WMA, and all further photos were at night. The deer was never seen during shooting hours.

Again, the bottom line in home range and core areas is do your best to find these areas before the season starts. Deer spend most of their time in their core area in the summer months, so getting multiple pictures of your target buck is the best way to ensure you’ll be around him come opening day.

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