Deer Research: How Bucks Travel

buck compressed

Ran across a fascinating whitetail study conducted in Oklahoma.

Researchers fitted bucks with GPS collars and monitored their movements using a technique called “fractal dimension,” which describes the complexity (crisscross paths) and linearity (more straight lines) of the travels used by deer at various times of the season.

OK rut moves

The scientists found that in early fall (and again later in the post-rut), bucks stick to relatively small core areas and have complex, localized mazes of movement, which are the result of many short-distance trips during which the deer frequently circle, backtrack and change directions as they move from feed to bed (above left).

But come the seeking days of the rut–beginning in late October and running through mid-November–many of those same bucks show less confined, longer and more linear movements (above right). The researchers surmised that by traveling longer distances in straighter lines during the rut, bucks maximize their chances of coming into contact with estrous does.

So what does this mean for the hunter? Here’s how I interpret it.

During early bow season, when bucks move less in more confined habitats, scout for rubs and the most heavily used trails on a ridge or in a creek/river bottom. Based on the fresh sign you find, hang a few stands and hunt high-interaction spots that bucks seem to frequent most.

Around Halloween, as begin to lengthen their daily movements and roam more in daylight hours, expand your hunt area, too. Spread out, scout and hang some more stands in likely ambush spots back in the woods. Then sit in those stands every day for a week or longer. You’ll see deer big and small, including some bucks you’ve never seen or gotten pictures of before.

Hunt all day, or as many hours as you can hack it in a tree stand. You never know what time a shooter will show. It couldn’t hurt to lay a doe scent trail into your post; a buck moving on a long, linear travel pattern might cut it and come in. Also, grunt and/or rattle periodically throughout the day in hopes of contacting one of those vagabond bucks and reeling him your way.

Kansas: Rare 8-Point Doe!

kas 8 pt doeOn opening day of the 2014 Kansas gun season Chuck Rorie saw a nice rack. “I didn’t think much about it; it just looked like a nice buck when I was watching it and I shot it,” Rorie told the Wichita Eagle.

“But when I was skinning it I realized something didn’t look right,” said Chuck. “It didn’t have the right private parts.”

How rare is an antlered doe like the one Chuck shot last season? Research on the topic is thin, but some biologists have said only 1 in 6,000 does will have antlers. And Dr. Grant Woods, one of the top whitetail scientists in the world, says that number could be as high as 1 in 10,000.

Keith Sexson, who has been with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for 46 years, says he has heard of maybe 15 antlered does in Kansas in all that time “and that number might be high.”

What causes the odd doe to grow antlers? A higher than normal level of testosterone. “Excessive testosterone is why some women have more facial hair than others,” Dr. Woods says. “In deer, that’s expressed in antler growth.”

Research has shown that most does that grow bone put on small, stunted racks. Frequently those clumpy racks are covered with velvet, because while the does have enough testosterone to grow antlers, they don’t have enough of the hormone to cause rubbing like bucks do.

Chuck’s 225-pound doe is even more unique in several ways. The rack, which scored around 115, had 8 typical points (including tall brows), good mass and a 17-inch spread, and it was hard and polished in early December.  “You could see tree bark on the antlers where she’d been rubbing them against trees, like a buck,” he said.

“I’m tickled to death,” said Chuck, who is having the rare doe mounted. “I know this is a once in a lifetime thing.”

World-Record Whitetail: What It Will Take to Top The Hanson Buck

hanson buck at bcIt will obviously take one rare and incredible animal to best the 213 5⁄8-inch monster that Milo Hanson shot near Biggar, Sask. 22 years ago.

My analysis of the top 200-inch typical racks in the Boone and Crockett book show that the new record typical will have to possess 12 points or more, with the G-2, G-3 and G-4 tines on each antler in excess of 10 inches; an inside spread of 22 inches and likely more; and bases of 6 inches or more, with good mass throughout the 27-inch-plus main beams. The rack will have to be clean and amazingly symmetrical, with few abnormal points and less than 8 inches of deductions. The animal will probably be 5 to 7 years old.

Of the thousands of typical racks that have been entered in the B&C book since 1993, the year Milo shot his giant, 80 racks scored more than 190 inches, and 7 topped 200. It would just take a few more inches of spread, mass and tine length to push a world-class rack like that over the top. Some people believe the new record will be shot soon, maybe one day this fall, though they have been saying that for the past 20 years.

One of the country’s top whitetail biologists doubts it will happen soon, and he has an intriguing theory why. “Most whitetail bucks have non-typical antlers in their genes,” says Dr. Grant Woods. “As they age, especially on managed private lands where there is so much nutritious feed, they start to put a lot of junk on their antlers. It’s actually pretty rare for a 6- year-old buck to be a straight typical these days.”

Woods expects the record for the largest non-typical whitetail (currently a 307 5/8-incher shot in Iowa in 2003) to be broken before the new No. 1 typical falls.

Where might the new No. 1 be shot? Based on my analysis of record-book bucks shot since 2000, I predict Illinois, Saskatchewan, Ohio, Kentucky or Kansas. My 2 sleeper states are Missouri and Nebraska.


Wisconsin DNR: No Doe Tags For 13 Counties

big doe compressed

With whitetail herds struggling or holding their own in some areas of the Upper Midwest, one of the questions being raised: Have hunters been shooting too many does? I suspect we have been killing too many in places, as I talked about in this post last year:

For the last 20 years, state game agencies encouraged us to shoot more and more deer, and especially does. Hunters obliged; some guys killed 5, 10 or more. Personally I have never understood why a person would want or need to shoot more than 5 deer in a season; surely that is enough to fill your blood lust and your freezer, and donate a couple of animals to the food bank. But the agencies had designed those seasons and limits to reduce the herds…

Now the tide is turning.

Michigan had considered closing the deer season this fall in the U.P. due to a plummeting herd, but word is that the season is on for now. In Wisconsin, the DNR will recommend no antlerless hunting in 2015 in Douglas, Bayfield, Sawyer, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Price, Oneida, Langlade, Forest, Florence and Racine counties, and a portion of Jackson County “in an effort to regrow the herd.”

What to make of this? For all these years, many DNRs have told us to whack and stack does in an effort to manage and reduce the herds, but now they want to stop or limit doe hunting cold turkey to build the herds back up? Is this type of yo-yo deer management best, or do we need a more moderate and measured approach to bag limits and season lengths?

The latter makes sense to me, what about where you hunt?

Montana: Saga of the Mutt Buck


I used to hunt out on the Milk River every fall with my buddy Luke Strommen, before the epic EHD outbreak of 2011 wiped out the whitetail herd, which is still struggling to recover. For several years in the early 2000s, as soon as I rolled into camp, Luke would start chattering about this one special buck that roamed the river around Vandalia. “Saw the Mutt Buck the other day…guy missed the Mutt Buck two days ago…the Mutt Buck is cool…maybe you’ll get a shot at the Mutt Buck…” Well, I never saw the Mutt Buck (and curiously I never knew how he got his name) and had forgotten all about him, until I ran across this story that Luke sent me some years ago, entitled “Saga of the Mutt Buck.”—M.H.    

Sometimes putting your hands on a whitetail buck that you have been watching and thinking about for years can be bittersweet.

It was the 11th of December 2005 when my Uncle Roy found the Mutt Buck’s sheds while pheasant hunting. I was ranching and guiding bowhunters back then, and I had observed this buck from his late-summer velvet days all the way through horn-shedding time that year.

Two of my clients actually had a chance at the Mutt Buck that season, but failed to capitalize. One guy got busted drawing when the buck was broadside at 20 yards. The other fella saw him at 13 yards, got rattled and drew his bow back so fast that he lifted the arrow off the rest—the Mutt Buck only gave him a brief instant of such foolishness and bounded off.

One November day I watched Mutt breed a doe 30 yards in front of me, a bit too far for my recurve. My wife, Tara, had drawn her bow on the buck one afternoon during the last week of the season, but he never got closer than 50 yards before he ran off with a doe in heat.

It was good in some ways that none of us killed the Mutt Buck that year. We believed him to be 3½ years old, and some who had seen him argued that he only looked to be 2½. We figured the Mutt Buck needed 2 to 3 years to grow before he reached his true potential. Although he was particularly narrow-racked, we guessed him to score in the mid-150s. Those sheds that my uncle found proved we were very close in our field-scoring. I couldn’t wait to see him next year.

Interestingly, the Mutt Buck was a passive and awkward buck. All fall during the 2005 season, I watched him shy away from other bucks that were 20 to 30 inches smaller of rack than him. He had his own personality.

The hunting season of 2006 once again brought some memorable encounters between the Mutt Buck and my bowhunting clients. One guy missed him at 30 yards. Several evenings the buck passed by my hunters’ stands just after shooting light.

Once again, I was able to watch him from velvet to the end of the season, and now he had become more aggressive, more of a dominant buck. He seemed to have 9 lives and I was glad. I couldn’t wait to see what this buck would grow into in another year or two.

But Mother Nature had a different plan, I guess. My brother Jake was fishing for catfish the next spring when he stumbled upon a carcass with a large rack attached to it. He gave me a call and within minutes, based on his description, I knew he had found the Mutt Buck. Every spring we find winter-killed bucks out here on the Milk River. But this one hurt.

He hadn’t grown much from the last year. His rack was right at 160 inches on the skull, which is big anywhere and huge out here on the Milk. It was only 13½ inches wide, and he had sprouted a 3-inch sticker point on his right G-2.

I can only wonder how the Mutt Buck would have turned out had he lived another year or two. I still think about him from time to time. We’ve watched and hunted a lot of great bucks out here on the river over the years, but the Mutt Buck was special.—Luke

(In the picture: Jake Strommen (l.) with the Mutt Buck’s rack, and Luke with the sheds.)