Science and Effects of Deer Hunting Pressure

How much hunting pressure does it take to change whitetail patterns and movement?

Science and Effects of Deer Hunting Pressure
Pressure from hunters will often send whitetails to thick, dense cover to avoid contact. (Terry Owens photo)

As long as we’ve hunted whitetail deer, questions have come up about the effects of hunting pressure on our quarry.

Does hunting activity push deer out of core areas? Do deer “go nocturnal” in response to hunting pressure? Do whitetails push deeper into heavy cover to remain unseen by human predators?

The answers depend on multiple factors.

It won’t come as a surprise that deer often respond to hunting pressure by altering their daily activity patterns. But it might surprise hunters that sometimes the opposite is true, and despite increased hunting pressure, whitetails don’t always respond by changing their movements.


Of course, there’s ample evidence – and not just the anecdotal variety offered by your buddies at deer camp – that deer are profoundly affected by increases in hunting pressure. A 1998 Florida study showed that the average distance of deer to the nearest road and the amount of nocturnal activity were greater during the hunting season than during times when hunting season was closed.


The same study reported that deer “avoided clear cuts, regenerating pine stands, and other open habitats and preferred the dense cover of swamps and mature forests.”

Likewise, a Connecticut study of a controlled hunt revealed that deer retreated to areas of “dense vegetative cover” during the hunt. Other studies have shown that, in the absence of such dense cover, deer flushed by hunters may move long distances and may leave their annual home ranges.

But these findings don’t always hold true. More than one study has indicated that deer stay within an established home range in response to increased hunting pressure (perhaps an example of feeling safe and secure in familiar surroundings).

A 2008 Maryland study reported that disturbance by hunters “produced a behavioral response in only half of the encounters documented.” And even in those cases, the flight response was temporary and there were no changes in daily habits or shifts in home ranges.


Whitetail responses to hunting pressure can be highly variable. The amount of hunting pressure plays a part, as well as the density of the deer herd and the habitat type. Other factors that contribute to different behavioral responses include a deer’s age, sex and its prior experiences.

Males and females may react differently to hunting pressure. One study showed that does react to pressure by moving greater distances and covering larger areas during hunting seasons than during non-hunting seasons. The study found that such movements increased when hunter activity exceeded roughly one hunter per five acres. (It should be noted, however, that the “critical level of disturbance” likely varies based on different types of habitat.)

Meanwhile, bucks in the study did not react to pressure by altering their movements. And other studies have shown that bucks “may variably increase or decrease movements” in response to hunting pressure.


Hunting pressure in the form of hunting dogs also has been studied, and the results are somewhat surprising. Deer pursued by hunting dogs showed a strong commitment to seasonal and annual home ranges. Even though some left their home ranges, most all of them returned to their ranges and resumed normal activity within 24 hours.

So how much pressure is enough to alter deer patterns in your neck of the woods? A lot depends on what your neck of the woods looks like and the individual deer.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Glenn Walker talks us through the soy-based technology that makes Lure Lock cases spill-proof and scent-proof. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

After making the switch to Berkley products heading into the inaugural BPT season, Edwin Evers tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead why Berkley baits played such a key role in his recent angling success.

Minn Kota's Brad Henry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that there's much to like in the new Minn Kota Riptide Terrova saltwater trolling motor that comes with I-Pilot and an 87-inch shaft.

Mustad

Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them. Reels

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them.

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

          From Monksville Reservoir to Union Lake, plus five other picks, here's where you'll find Bass

7 Best Bets For New Jersey Largemouth Bass

October 04, 2010

From Monksville Reservoir to Union Lake, plus five other picks, here's where you'll...

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers. Other Freshwater

3 Deadly Bait Rigs For Stripers

J.B. Kasper - April 21, 2005

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter. Whitetail

Make Bad Weather a Deer-Hunting Bonus

Terry Madewell - November 27, 2019

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter.

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer hunting? Conservation & Politics

Perspective: Urine-Based Scent Use for Deer Hunting

Adam Heggenstaller - December 19, 2019

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer...

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting. Whitetail

Baiting Deer Continues to Dwindle in Midwest

Patrick Durkin - December 11, 2019

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting.

Don't let the fast action of November rush you into making a bad decision. Whitetail

Bowhunting: Taking the Perfect Rut Shot

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn

Don't let the fast action of November rush you into making a bad decision.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.