You set cameras and scout and look all of August, and locate a big 10-pointer and a couple of great 8s, any of which you’d love to tag this season. Will the bucks stay on the property and in the same general area come late September and October? Or will they go AWOL, never to be seen again this season?
Tennessee researcher Bryan Kinkel has conducted extensive preseason censuses of the whitetails that live on his clients’ hunting lands across the Southeast. His observation data and trail-camera photos show that 50 percent of the older bucks may spend the spring/summer months at one end of their home range, but then shift to another core area for fall and winter. These seasonal ranges may have little or no overlap. His data shows these shifts most often occur around the time bucks shed their velvet–roughly September 5-20. So that furry-racked monster you spot in a bean field this weekend might be long gone when bow season opens.
How far might he go? Missouri biologist Grant Woods says it could be a few hundred yards or several miles or anywhere in between. If you hunt 1,000 acres or more, it’s no big deal. Most of the bucks that shift will still live in your zone, you just need to scout more after September 20 to pin them down.
The problem is when you hunt 50 to 300 acres, like most of us do. “On a 300-acre property, a buck that shifts only 500 yards or so could move right off your property and onto a spot where other people are hunting,” Woods says.
The good news: While half the mature bucks might leave your land in mid-September that many more that summered elsewhere are apt to move in and stay on your property this fall and winter. Generally a property sees a zero net loss of total bucks from summer to fall and winter, but the identity of those bucks can change dramatically.
So when you see a new a big buck pop up for the first time on one of your cameras in October or November, that explains it!
One more thing about buck movements, which could be good or bad news for you. “Our telemetry studies show that bucks range less as they get older and older, and their summer and fall/winter core areas overlap more,” says whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson. So a buck that comes and goes off your land when he’s 3 ½ and 4½ might stop moving around so much if he lives to the ripe old age of 6, which is very rare for a wild buck. A really old buck might summer and winter in 100 acres on the property you hunt (good) or he might move off your land one August and never come back (bad).