In March 2013 researchers at Penn State captured a buck on a state forest, and slapped a GPS collar and ear tags on him. They tracked Buck 8917 for 2 years and found out:
Most of the year, outside the November rut, he moved less 1 square mile.
(I have been saying this on TV and blogging it for a long time—most bucks have much smaller home ranges than hunters imagine.)
One day during 2013 rut, he traveled 2.7 miles, crossed 4 ridges for a total of 3,200 feet in elevation change and visited 3 locations in a 6-hour period. Then he turned around, came back and ended up right where he started 6 hours later! Another 2.5 miles in those 6 hours and another 2,600 feet in elevation change. So during the 12-hour period he traveled more than 5 miles and more than a mile in elevation.
(That is another thing I have been telling you—bucks freely roam out of their core areas on rut days, but they’ll come back, quickly like 8917 did, or maybe a day or two later. Be patient and don’t abandon your best stands.)
All told in 2013, between the 4th and 27th of November, the buck traveled 85 miles. The previous 24 days he traveled a total of 23 miles.
(Think about it: In November, when a buck more than doubles the miles he usually travels, he’s vulnerable, though he walks many of those miles at night.)
Interesting sidebar here: By the time Thanksgiving arrives in Pennsylvania, most adult females have been bred. Thanksgiving also kicks off rifle season and bear season. The researchers point out that during the rifle season, deer have a special hiding place: Usually on the top of a ridge where the prevailing wind from the west will let them know danger approaches, and where they can quickly jump off the side of the ridge and escape.
Buck 8917’s hiding place was a ridge on the north side of his home range.
In 2014, year 2 of the study, the buck’s core home range didn’t change, and he traveled similarly, 92 miles in the 24-day period of November 4-27. While he did not appear to have a cluster of hiding locations on top the ridge where he hid out during the 2013 rifle season, their tracking data showed a cluster of points down lower down on the ridge. The researchers speculate that hunters moved in on top of the ridge, so 8917 moved his hideouts lower down the hills to elude them.
They point out another thing: During the 2014 rifle season, their expanded data show that both does and bucks reduced their home range to about 100 acres during the daytime hours.
(As I have blogged before, when hunters swarm the woods and the guns start booming, deer know quickly what’s going on, and they hole up and move a lot at night.)
While Buck 8917 survived 2 rifle seasons, quite a feat on public land in Pennsylvania, he died in January of 2015. A snowstorm prevented the field techs from reaching the carcass for 24 hours, and coyotes got to the deer. But it was clear the coyotes did not kill 8917 because the carcass was covered in snow prior to being scavenged.
One researcher said: “We will never know why this deer picked that spot to die. What is fascinating is that Buck 8917 visited this spot well outside his home range only one other time in the 2 years we monitored him. Why go there to die?”
We might not know why or what killed him, but Buck 8917 sure gave us some interesting insight on the travel habits of rutting bucks.