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Do Pressured Deer Fly The Coop?
The research team classified the 135-yard area around each stand site as a buffer zone. Deer hunters weren’t allowed to leave their tree stands for any reason. Volunteers conducted small drives and tracked deer reported shot by standers. The research team also designated three larger areas as refuges where deer hunting wasn’t allowed. Each of the 57 collared deer that survived the hunt were located twice daily, once within an hour of when deer hunters entered the woods at 6:30 a.m., and once within an hour of when they departed at 2 p.m.
Before the deer hunt, 42 percent of the collared deer were in a refuge area and 58 percent were elsewhere on the property. Once the hunt began, the numbers reversed, with about 60 percent of deer within refuge areas and 40 percent elsewhere. Those numbers remained almost identical after the hunt. Deer outside the refuges moved far more often than those inside the refuges during daylight, presumably in response to hunting pressure.
In fact, deer inside the refuges apparently felt so secure that their routine movements remained the same before, during and after the hunt. Deer outside the refuges, however, laid low in daylight unless pushed, and they remained sedentary in daylight after the hunt. Only nine of the 57 deer left their home range, with five doing so at night. These “explorers” traveled .62 miles to 3.7 miles from home, but all returned within one to six days.
Even when deer hunters use hounds to hunt deer they have a difficult time forcing deer from their home range for more than a few hours. When Gino D’Angelo, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, was doing his graduate studies with professors Miller and Robert Warren, he studied deer movements with the aid of 13 radio-collared does on the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., during dog hunts.
D’Angelo found these deer had a seasonal home range of about 200 acres from spring through autumn, but only used about a half or third of it on any given day in fall. During a deer hunt, however, whitetails used almost all of their 200-acre home range but seldom left it. When they did leave, most went a half-mile or less beyond their home turf and returned within a day.
“They often ran long distances on a straight line when being chased and then, before leaving their home range, they doubled-back on about the same line,” D’Angelo said. “Sometimes they’d get back to the center of their home range and hold, or they’d stop on the perimeter and hold until flushed again. The only real exception was a doe that tried to stay within her home range, but then ran 1-1/2 miles from the periphery and stayed out there until dark. Then she made a beeline home.”
D’Angelo also found that the longer a hunt lasted, the more determined deer became to hold still. They would not flee until the dogs apparently had their scent and were moving in. His results were similar to those recorded by Marchinton during a 1971 study. “Professor Marchinton and his student reported that deer handle dog packs with that same type of behavior,” he said. “It’s almost like a big version of a cottontail rabbit. They run a long time, go into a holding pattern and circle back.”
Speaking of dogs, deer hunters often claim raccoon hounds chase away “their deer” when working the same woodlots at night. However, research at Clemson University from 1993-94 monitored 27 radio-collared deer in South Carolina, and found no evidence that deer movements were affected the day after raccoon hunts. Perhaps that was because the hounds only chased one deer deliberately. Either way, not once did a radio-collared deer leave its home range during these monitored hunts. Further, the researchers used cameras at baited sites to monitor post-hunt deer movements, and found no difference in deer visitations before and after the hunts.
Ideal Deer Hunting Season Length?
If deer biologists want to increase success rates, particularly in small areas where they’re trying to control herd size, they should consider several one or two day deer hunts with at least one-week buffers in between.
That’s one suggestion from an ongoing University of Delaware study that is monitoring radio-collared deer in the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area on the Delaware and Maryland state line. Craig Rhoads, a graduate student, reports that for every day hunters are active, daylight deer movements remain stifled for at least the next four days.
This makes sense, of course. In most of the big whitetail states, the deer kill plunges after the first two days. Research suggests it isn’t just fewer hunters in the woods in the days that follow. Daylight deer activity plummets because deer aren’t quick to forget mortal threats.
How Far Deer Flee
Deer seldom flee great distances for long when bumped by deer hunters, but it’s often difficult to put precise numbers on the distances traveled and the evasive maneuvers they make. Their responses vary by individual deer, and also by how often they’re hunted, how relentlessly they’re hunted, and how thick the cover where they’re hunted.
And although GPS-transmitting collars give researchers a great look at deer-flight patterns, they still can’t predict escape routes as if they’re pass patterns in an NFL playbook.
With that introduction, consider these comments and findings from researchers the past 40 years.
“A whitetail won’t run far if it’s not used to being pressured by a predator. In some areas where people use vehicles to feed deer, they might not run at all. They might trot 20 or 30 yards and watch. But if they’re pressured by a cadre of experienced hunters in mature, fairly open cover, their best protection is putting distance between themselves and the predator.”
-- Professor Karl V. Miller, University of Georgia.
A buck’s average movement from the site where it was trapped and tagged to the site where it eventually died was 700 to 900 yards.
-- Jack Ward Thomas, Edwards Plateau in Texas.
During hunts, yearling bucks and 2-1/2-year-old bucks travel farther than older bucks. During the first two days of a hunt, bucks in those age groups die at faster rates than any other sex-age class.
-- Don Autry, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois.
The mean distance between a survivor buck’s last pre-hunt location and its first post-hunt location averaged .57 miles. The average distance between a harvested buck’s pre-hunt activity center and the site where it was shot was 1.92 miles.
-- Don Autry, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois.
“Deer learn quickly from heavy hunting pressure. While trying to reduce a deer herd in a Georgia botanical garden covering 2,000 acres, we used spotlights and suppressed rifles to remove them at night. The first year we shot 70-odd deer without much trouble. The next year we got 35 and the third year we got 12. We could barely sweep an area and they’d disappear. The next year we went in during daylight and got between 30 and 40 of them.”
-- Grant Woods, Woods & Associates, Missouri
Radio-collared bucks that survive opening weekend in heavily hunted southwestern Wisconsin do so by holding tight to thick, wooded draws and running a circuitous route in dense, well-known cover. They do not make beelines into unknown ground.
-- Bill Ishmael, wildlife manager, Wisconsin DNR
With whitetails staying home to deal with hunting pressure, hunters might be tempted to think deer leave themselves vulnerable to our time-tested strategies. Not necessarily. Most research shows that the more intense and prolonged the hunting pressure, the more difficult the hunt. In a 1983 Mississippi State study, Professor Jacobson and student Kevin Herriman didn’t lose any of their six collared bucks in a heavily hunted public area, but they lost every buck they collared the year before on lands controlled by a hunting club.
This suggests deer hunters must not only have faith deer are at hand, but continually adapt and modify their strategies, even after successful deer hunts. We might fool deer once, but we shouldn’t expect any tactic to be as effective the next time. The experienced deer now knows that particular tactic, and likely won’t fall for it a second time.