Deer Movement: What to Know about Latest Research

by Josh Lanier

If you’re looking to track down the biggest bucks during deer hunting season, new research may shed light on some of their habits and give you an upper hand.

Why and where whitetail deer move is a complicated mix of factors. Though hunters believe many myths and misconceptions about the animals that aren’t based in any scientific data or understanding. That’s likely because scientists don’t have the full picture of it all yet. However, new research does expand our understanding of deer habits and does arm hunters with some new weapons in their search for a trophy.

Some Helpful Deer Movement Information From Experts

Just because the science of deer movement is still speculative in a lot of ways, that doesn’t mean we’re completely in the woods.

Outdoor Life recently looked through a new study from Dr. David Stone at the University of Georgia. In it, Stone learned deer change their behavior during their rut and pre-rut periods. Something few had realized before, the magazine said. Do prep-work and search for does before the rut period begins. This will give you a leg up when hunting season begins.

“When searching for bucks, look for the does,” said Dr. Stephen Webb, who synthesized the data for Outdoor Life. “Bucks, in general, will change habitats during the rut, but they won’t usually wander outside of their home range, so it is important to have camera data from the pre-rut to start pinpointing that buck’s area. You may need to refine where you hunt during the rut by keying in on where does use most, because sooner or later if you are in that buck’s backyard, you will intercept him in habitats used most by does.”

Moreover, a researcher at the University of Georgia looked at footage from 50 trail cameras for an entire year. He found that more than half of the buck sightings (61 percent) were during the peak of the breeding season.

However, bucks will not travel far distances, regardless of what hunting lore will tell you. They are more active during the rut but they remain mostly in the same area. So knowing where the does like to stay will guide you later in the year.

Some Tips For Hunters Taken From Recent Studies

While you are stalking deer learning their habits, they are learning yours. Research has shown that deer know where humans are most likely to go to and will avoid those areas. So, if you’re looking for big bucks and does, then be willing to walk further into the woods than you normally do if it’s a familiar hunting spot. Avoid those areas because deer will as well.

Also, ignore most of the information about how weather affects deer movement. It’s almost all wrong, research shows. Deer move mostly during a particular time of day (at dawn and at dusk) and aren’t that bothered by the weather, by and large.

Though there is a key piece of information in the most recent studies.

“The take home is that when it is hot, or the temperature is rising, does will continue to stay [bedded] until more favorable temperatures,” Webb said.

It may sound obvious but deer have to eat every day. That’s why Dr. Bronson Stickland of Mississippi State University says pay attention to food stocks. If you’re near a food source and deer aren’t eating it, move on. They’re eating somewhere else, he said. You need to find where they are eating.

But the most hard-and-fast rule that researchers have determined about deer and their habits is that there are no hard-and-fast rules. Deer are unique. Hunters have studied them for generations and researchers are still learning new things about their habits every season. So, know going into the forest that no matter how much knowledge you bring with you, it’s never going to be enough. But be well-armed about what to expect and apply data where you can. That is the beauty of hunting.