Bucks On The Move

Posted on March 26, 2013

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How Far Will A Rutting Buck Travel?

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As far as he darn well pleases, when he pleases, and wherever he pleases. But, you say, I’ve always been led to believe that a buck lives out his existence within the parameters of a square mile. Perhaps he does; I have lived the last 30-years nestled onto just shy of 3-acres of ground. However, in that same amount of time I have traveled routinely and extensively, my longest journey taking me all the way to the Continent of Africa.

There have been occasions when I’ve articulated about the distance a buck had taken me while on his track that some in the audience found incredulous. Not only were they doubtful, but also didn’t think it was actually possible. Hogwash, they say, those are fictitious tall tales better left for campfire banter. It defies the long held belief that a buck lives his entire life within a square mile area. By asserting a buck will travel such distances away from his home dispels the hope and belief that the big buck growing on your back forty will be present when it comes to leveling a weapon against his hide.

Yet, according to the most recent studies conducted by the nations top deer researchers, when it comes to home range size of individual bucks, it is best to think of this range in relation to the uniqueness of the buck residing upon that plot of ground. Dr. Karl Miller explains that our focus should be upon the factors that affect their movement, and the variables that come into play, which in essence help shape the overall dimension of a buck’s home turf. According to Miller, “Age, season, cover type, habitat quality and physical barriers such as islands or even roads all play a part.” He goes on to state that the two biggest factors affecting buck movement is, “The need to breed and the need to feed.”

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QDMA’s Communications Manager, Tanner Tedeschi’s fittingly describes this by equating it comparatively with humans. “Factors that determine a deer’s home range are very similar to factors that determine a human’s home range…Typical parts of our home include a bedroom, kitchen/dining area and living room. They are part of our essentials as places we live, eat, sleep and procreate – the same essentials for a buck.” Tanner goes on to explain varieties in residency preferences, “Some people live in the country where you are farther from neighbors, must travel more to get to the grocery store, and thus, have a larger home range. Others live in the city where you’re right next to neighbors, can make it to the store in a block or two, and live within a smaller home range. Beyond the type of living area each person chooses, we also can be home bodies or adventurous. While one person may have never left the city or state in which he or she was born, others are adventure seekers and world travelers. When and how much we go out for food, dating and socializing varies too – by our moods, the weather, the season, peer pressure and much more.”

Deer trackers throughout the Northeast have always understood the amount of ground a wandering buck can gobble up in the course of a day’s travel. By nightfall their tired legs and weary bodies bare the marks of a distance runner. When they step out onto a lonely logging road 9.5 miles away from where their vehicle is parked they need no reminder of just how far they have ventured. It only takes one experience of dragging out a buck that tips the scales well over 230 pounds six miles from where you first located his track to appreciate a buck’s proclivity to roam.

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However, a buck does not travel great distances from his home sporadically or without good intention; when he goes on a walk about it is for a specific purpose: to breed. And depending on if he finds what he is looking for, and if it is enticing enough to prolong his stay, it will dictate the duration of his absence.

Understanding deer densities, buck-to-doe ratios and age structure all play a part in just how far a buck will ultimately venture to find love. In the big woods where the terrain is vast and preferred food is spread out, doe family groups can be miles apart. But wilderness bucks are not exclusive when it comes to traveling great distances; their cousins living in suburbia and rural America also demonstrate this characteristic. To be precise on just exactly how far a buck will travel during the rut would require either a tracker to carry a pedometer – but that would be limited to only the daylight mileage – or capture and radio collar bucks in order to monitor their every move.

And that is exactly what researchers have done on the King Ranch, located in Kingsville, South Texas. In the past few years, they have captured and collared 37 different bucks giving them the ability to monitor the animal’s every move. The age class of bucks collared range from as young as 1 ½ all the way to a buck of 7 ½ – years of age. One of the most striking results was how unique each individual buck was with regards to their propensity to travel, the disparity in how large their individual home ranges were, and just how unpredictable a buck can be during the rut. For example, according to Colleen Schreiber, “How else can you explain why a 3 ½ -year-old buck takes an 18-mile round-trip outside his home range in 29 hours and another whose home range was less than 1,000 acres moved an average of 8 miles a day in December, all within his home range?”

Remember folks; these are South Texas deer were talking about here, not Northern Maine or Canada.

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The average home range of these collared bucks was 2, 271 acres, but ranged from as small as 332 acres (Approximately ½ mile) to as high as 13, 648 acres. (Approximately 21.3 miles) According to Schreiber, “Average distance traveled during the rut basically doubled. Before and after the rut, average daily movement was 2 to 2.5 miles, but during December (Texas rut) it averaged 5 to 6 miles per day. Likewise, the longest individual daily movement in both years occurred during the peak of the rut. In 2006-07, the longest daily movement made by an individual buck was 14.9 miles; the following year it was 15.1 miles.” But these two bucks seem to be the exception. “Across all bucks captured, the average longest daily movement in 2006-07 and 2007-08 was 11.3 and 10.3 miles, respectively.”

Interestingly enough, nearly all of the bucks made excursions outside their home range during the rut. Some however spent much longer away from home than others. One particular 61/2-year-old buck had what appeared to be two homes located 3 aerial miles apart. According to Aaron Foley, a graduate student involved in the project, “During the peak of the rut this buck traveled 4.2 miles in three hours and remained there for 16 days. He then traveled back to his northern home range in three hours, where he remained for 20 hours before returning to his southern home range for the remainder of the breeding season.”

When it comes to the time of day this travel transpired throughout the rut the results are favorable for the deer hunter. “Researchers also looked at day versus night movement over the course of the breeding season to see if there were any distinct patterns. What they found was somewhat surprising.” Schreiber reports, “During the height of the rut, movement was essentially split equally between night and day.”

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What does this all mean to the deer hunter? Simply put, bucks travel extensively during the rut with no real way for us to predict his itinerary or where he may end up. For the dyed-in-the-wool deer tracker this revelation comes as no surprise to his ever-increasing understanding of buck movement. However, for those that prefer to pattern a particular animal and wait for his arrival…I will leave you with the parting lines of Colleen Schreiber, “As for encountering a mature buck while hunting? Perhaps the best advice is expect the unexpected and then hope for a little luck.”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer