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Buck travels

1869 Views 9 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Southern Man
Many seasons hunting the rut, I find bucks tend to show themselves maybe twice in a weeks hunt almost like they take a predetermined rut route that takes them on a couple of days journey. I then tend to see them back hitting a scrape or mock scrape in a couple of days later in my core hunting area. Anyone else see this pattern of buck sightings in the rut? I don't tend to read too much but if you have any information regarding extended buck route activity please pass it along. Maybe this is nothing and all I'm seeing is a random rut activity but maybe something to discuss?
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i think during the chase you could see younger bucks anywhere anytime, but the big boys could be seen anytime anywhere the does are during the rut.
I read this a while back. I thought it was pretty good stuff on buck movement. I think it came from QDMA October 2006. It's kind of a long read and the graphs aren't with it, so you have to kind of get what you can get. Still a good read tho.

The summer months are a good time to tend to the monitoring duties of your Quality Deer Management (QDM) program. Driving around your hunting property and glassing crop fields,
food plots, and cutovers, or strategically placing scouting cameras,
can provide insightful information on what you can expect to see
in the deer woods during the coming hunting season.
Or does it?
No doubt you have seen bachelor groups in the summer with
a quality buck or two that you or your hunting partners dream
about seeing from the treestand. However, hunting season comes
and goes and nobody sees hide nor hair of the bruiser. Maybe you
see him again the next spring in the same crop field or food plot,
or perhaps you never see him again. Why would he leave? Where
do these adult bucks go during the rut? Do the movement and
activity levels of adult bucks change from late summer to early
winter? Do they travel long distances and, if so, what is the implication
to your QDM program? These were some of the questions
we were asking ourselves at the conclusion of Dr. Jon Shaw’s
research on yearling-buck dispersal (see “Why Are the Young
Bucks Leaving?” Quality Whitetails, October 2003). As we turned
our focus toward the adult buck segment of Chesapeake Farms’
whitetails, these questions moved to the forefront.
To find the answers, we needed an in-depth look at the
behavior of adult bucks from summer through winter in a freeranging
deer population. Let us first clarify what we mean when
we say “adult” buck. For the purposes of our research we wanted
information on bucks that were 21⁄2 years or older, because dispersal
movements of 11⁄2-year-olds would bias our results. We decided
to capture and collar adult bucks with geographic positioning
system (GPS) collars. This research tool had the ability to acquire
a GPS location every hour from summer through winter and was
capable of storing up to 21,000 locations. Also, the GPS collars
had an activity sensor that recorded the relative activity of that
collared buck, indicated by head movements, and recorded data
24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The next question was when and how would be the best way
By James Tomberlin, Dr. Mark Conner and Dr. Richard Lancia
bill marchel
to capture these adult bucks to collar them. Dr. Lisa Muller at the
University of Tennessee graciously loaned us her dart guns and
GPS collars which allowed us to dart 18 adult bucks from 2003-
2005. Bucks were captured between June and August because
they were most accessible during this time of year, and antler
growth combined with body characteristics permitted adequate
aging on the hoof. During this period, adult bucks focus on putting
on weight, begin to establish the dominance hierarchy for
the approaching rut, and are less wary and more habitual in their
daily movements from bedding areas to feeding areas. These
characteristics allowed us to set up on trails between bedding and
feeding areas using treestands and ground blinds – very similar to
early season bowhunting. Even the dart rifles we used had a range
of roughly 25 yards. The heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and biting
flies were much worse than early fall, but we didn’t complain – it
was the ultimate catch-and-release hunting and a pretty nice way
to pass the summer.
Our first objective was to estimate home ranges and core
areas of adult bucks from August through December. The GPS
locations from each collared buck painted a picture of their home
ranges and core areas (we defined “core areas” as where bucks
spent roughly half their time). Second, we wanted to describe
movements and activity patterns
before, during and after the
rut. We could use the distance
between successive GPS locations
as a measure of distance
traveled or movement by that
particular buck within a particular
hour. The collar recorded
relative activity, which was triggered
by vertical head movements
from behaviors like foraging,
antler threats, sparring, the
“head low” threat or chase position,
and other rutting behaviors.
The activity sensor did not
allow us to differentiate between
these behaviors, but it did allow
us to see how their activity
changed throughout the day
and seasons. Third, documenting
movements or excursions
outside a buck’s typical home
range would tell us if that buck
you were observing in the summer
did in fact “go missing” and
when and possibly why. Finally,
to tie all of these objectives into
one goal, we wanted to assess
the implications of this information
on a QDM program.
The Research Site
Chesapeake Farms is a
3,300-acre wildlife and agricultural
research area located in
Maryland on the eastern shore
of the Chesapeake Bay. Operated
by DuPont Crop Protection, Chesapeake Farms is a wildlife haven
that is permanently protected from development with a conservation
easement. Owned by DuPont since 1956, the property has a
long history of wildlife management that was formally recognized
by The Wildlife Society in 2003 with a Special Recognition Service
Award for contributions to wildlife management and sustainable
agriculture. Approximately 50 percent of the area is forested, 33
percent is cropland and the remaining 17 percent is comprised of
ponds, marshes, hedgerows and other areas managed for wildlife
habitat and hunting. Habitat diversity and interspersion on the
area coupled with sound wildlife management produces a healthy
deer population and supports 24 species of mammals, 33 species
of reptiles and amphibians, and 134 species of birds.
Presently, there are three objectives for the QDM program at
Chesapeake Farms. First is a quality hunting experience for the
corporate customers who are entertained during the two-week
modern firearms season (shotguns with slugs only). Second, crop
damage must be at an acceptable level for a working farm that
serves as a demonstration area for DuPont Crop Protection and
Pioneer products. Third, deer must be visible to the thousands of
visitors who annually take the five-mile, self-guided driving tour
From 2003 to 2005, researchers at Chesapeake Farms in Maryland darted 18 adult bucks (21⁄2 years
old or older) and fitted them with GPS collars that recorded hourly GPS locations from August
through December. The collars could be detached with a remote trigger and collected (above, right).
The GPS waypoint data yielded maps like the one below, left. This information was converted to maps
of home ranges (yellow line) with defined core areas (blue lines).
Hourly GPS
Home Range
Core Areas
OCTOBER 2007 21
the absence of rutting activity. Also, the
distribution and interspersion of feeding
and bedding areas that exist in fragmented
agricultural landscapes contributed to
smaller home ranges and core areas. This
suggests that a small-property manager
can attract and hold adult bucks in summer
and early fall using concentrated
bedding and feeding areas. However, this
ability decreases substantially as the rut
Another aspect of home range that
we looked at was how intensively adult
bucks used their home range and how
this use fluctuated across the periods.
We estimated intensity of use by dividing
their core area acreage, where bucks
spent half their time, by their home
range acreage, which gave us a percentage
of the home range where bucks spent half their time. The
intensity of use for these bucks ranged from 12 percent during
summer to 17 percent during the post-rut period (see the Graph:
“Intensity of Range Use by Adult Bucks”). In other words, bucks
spent roughly half of their time in about 12 percent of their home
range during the summer, which consisted mainly of concentrated
bedding and feeding areas. The intensity of use estimates
indicated that adult bucks were capable of obtaining the nutrition
and finding the cover they required within confined areas of their
range due to the distribution and interspersion of habitats in this
fragmented agricultural
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As the pre-rut
approached, bucks
began spending
more time in larger
parts of their range.
changes were occurring
in the surrounding
and in buck
First, summer
forages had fully
matured and begun
to dry out, and the
cash crops had been harvested. As a result, bucks break out of
their summer habits to find other resources like mast-producing
trees, vines, shrubs and food plots. Second, as the days get shorter
and the rut approaches, testosterone levels rise and bachelor
groups break up. Bucks range out, leaving scent-laden signposts
for does and other bucks by rubbing trees and making scrapes,
and actively search for does coming into estrus. All of these
changes coincide with increases in adult buck home range size
from summer to the onset of the rut.
Immediately following the rut period, we detected a decrease
in home range size and an increase in intensity of use. This
signaled another change in adult-buck behavior, potentially a
through the property. To accomplish
these objectives a QDM program was
initiated in 1994.
The program began with a threeyear
commitment to an antler-point
restriction where bucks with fewer than
7 points were protected from harvest
and a strong doe harvest to balance the
herd with its habitat. Based on data from
harvested deer, this approach protected
about 90 percent of all yearling bucks,
but only a few bucks that were older
than 21⁄2. During this period, about 24
bucks and 100 does were harvested
annually (one doe per 33 acres). At the
end of the three-year period, the antler
restriction was changed to bucks with at
least an ear-tip-wide spread to protect
all yearling bucks from harvest. Since
beginning the spread restriction in 1997, the average annual buck
and doe harvests were 27 and 124, respectively. The age structure
of harvested bucks has changed dramatically since QDM was
initiated at Chesapeake Farms. Prior to QDM, about 57 percent
of bucks harvested were 11⁄2 years old while 22 percent were 21⁄2
and 21 percent were 31⁄2 and older. Since initiation of the spread
restriction, 13 percent of harvested bucks are yearlings while 29
percent are 21⁄2 and 58 percent are 31⁄2 and older.
The adult sex ratio also improved. Prior to QDM, only 8 percent
of all deer seen by hunters on the first two days of firearms
season were antlered. Since the spread restriction was implemented
in 1997, the average estimated sex ratio is two does per buck.
Since 2003, the estimated sex ratio is 1.5 does per buck. Based on
this age structure and sex ratio data, Chesapeake Farms has a very
successful QDM program. With relatively light hunting pressure,
one buck 31⁄2 years or older is harvested for each 140 acres.
Because we studied bucks on a successful QDM property, our
results are particularly relevant to your QDM property.
program more effective.
Buck Home Ranges
Home ranges of white-tailed deer have been studied throughout
North America and vary by sex, age, habitat type, and season,
with the largest ranges occurring during the rut. It is important
to note that any acreages reported in graphs and figures in this
article apply only to Chesapeake Farms and possibly to deer herds
in similar agricultural landscapes in the Mid-Atlantic states. The
important take-home message is in how home ranges and core
areas fluctuate across the periods and not necessarily in their
sizes. We did not break down the results by months because
months mean nothing to deer. Instead, we focused on phases of
the rut – language that any deer manager can apply to their location
regardless of which month their rut phases occur.
We have established that the rut at Chesapeake Farms occurs
between November 5 and 25. If you are unsure of the normal
dates in your area, your local state wildlife biologist can provide
you with an estimate of the rut window in your area.
At Chesapeake Farms, home ranges and core areas peaked in
size during the rut (see the Graph: “Home Range & Core Area by
Period”). Both were smallest during the summer, probably due to
the amount of food available in this agricultural landscape and
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response to a decline in rutting behavior and/or the effects of
Maryland’s two-week gun season. Current research at Chesapeake
Farms is looking at what if any impacts this two-week gun season
may have on range use, movement, and activity of adult bucks.
Individual Variation in Home Ranges
Home ranges of adult bucks varied little between individuals
with most bucks exhibiting a range shift between summer and
winter (see the map: Seasonal Range Shift). These shifts were not
near as extensive as you might see in northern deer populations
where availability of food, cold temperatures and snow depth
result in annual migrations of deer. For these bucks, range shifts
were much less pronounced, and most, if not all, of the seasonal
ranges overlapped between summer and winter. We believe these
range shifts were a response to changes in food availability and
cover, especially after the cash crops were harvested, fall mast
crops became available, and leaves had fallen from
deciduous shrubs and saplings.
One of the buck’s we collared, aged at 31⁄2 by
toothwear and replacement, occupied two different
ranges throughout the study period that
were separated by roughly 4 miles (see the map:
Dumbbell Range). During summer and post-rut
periods he occupied his range on Chesapeake
Farms, and during early fall, pre-rut, rut, and
winter periods he moved between and occupied
both ranges. Movements between the two
ranges occurred in the middle of September, the
middle of October, and at the end of December.
We do not believe this buck’s movements were a
response to his capture and collaring because the
first movement took place roughly one month
after he was captured. Additionally, all three
movements were predominantly nocturnal with
consistent movement paths between the two
ranges, which may indicate the buck had prior
knowledge of the area he was traveling through
and where he was going. Our theory is this buck
dispersed to Chesapeake Farms as a yearling but
periodically returned to the area where he was
born, perhaps to better his chances at finding a
receptive doe. The higher buck age structure at
Chesapeake Farms could have also contributed to
these movements; 21⁄2- and potentially 31⁄2-yearold
bucks may begin to travel greater distances as
more social pressure is exerted on these subdominant
or marginal breeders by dominant bucks
and the higher density of bucks in the herd. Only
one buck out of 15 displayed this kind of range
use, making it an isolated case; however, it is not
the first documentation of a “dumbbell” home
range in a non-migratory deer herd. This is one
potential explanation for why a buck you observe
during summer vanishes during hunting season.
Distances Traveled & Activity Levels
Movement (distance traveled) of adult bucks
throughout the day fluctuated across the periods
but was generally lowest during daytime with
movement peaking during the crepuscular or
dawn and dusk hours (see the chart on the next
page: Average Movement by Time of Day). The
highest amounts of daytime and nocturnal movement
occurred during the rut period, but both
were still lower than at dawn and dusk. This was
interesting because we thought the post-rut and
Seasonal Range Shift: Most bucks exhibited a shift like the one visible in this
map. Shifts in food sources, including agricultural crops, and available cover likely
explain the difference between this buck’s summer range (orange) and winter range
(purple). Note also the wide roaming during the pre-rut, followed by a shrinking
of the range during the rut.
Dumbbell Range: This 31⁄2-year-old buck had a “dumbbell” shaped range, with a
4-mile gap between the two ends. He spent the summer and post-rut periods on
Chesapeake Farms (far right) and occupied both ranges during other periods.
winter periods would
have the most nocturnal
movement due
to hunting pressure.
However, after the rut,
nocturnal movement
dropped to pre-rut
Average daily
movement mirrored
the home range results
in how they fluctuated
from summer to winter
with the peak occurring during the rut
(see the chart: Average Daily Movement by
Period). The sequential increase in daily
movement of adult bucks at Chesapeake
Farms from summer to the rut period is
likely a response to the change in availability
of food resources and cover after
crop harvest, the break-up of bachelor
groups, and the escalation of rutting
behavior. The peak of movement occurring
during the rut period is a reflection of
bucks attempting to
locate as many receptive
does in estrus as
possible. Daily movement
dropped slightly
during post-rut and
winter periods, but
remained higher than
pre-rut levels.
Recall that in
addition to distances
and locations traveled,
the collars also
recorded activity levels based on head movements.
Behaviors like foraging, sparring and
chasing would register higher activity levels.
Relative activity levels by time of day fluctuated
across the periods but was generally lowest during
daytime and highest during the crepuscular
hours (see the chart: Average Activity by Time
of Day). Similar to movement results, daytime
was the period of lowest activity, which deer
will use for concealment, resting, chewing cud,
and to minimize heat stress. Daily activity by
period differed from daily movement (distance traveled) by period in two ways (see the
chart: Average Daily Activity by Period). First, adult bucks were pretty consistent in
the amount of the day they were active from summer to the pre-rut. Second, the peak
in daily activity occurred during the rut but was followed by a sharp decrease in daily
activity during the post-rut and winter periods down to pre-rut levels. Thus, the majority
of adult bucks would have been involved in the peak of breeding activities before
Maryland’s two-week gun season even began.
Even though adult buck activity decreases substantially after the rut, bucks were still
traveling distances similar to the rut and were still predominantly moving at dawn and
dusk (compare activity by period with distances traveled by period). Nocturnal move
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This article was first published
in the October 2007 issue
of QDMA’s Quality Whitetails
magazine. QDMA members
receive Quality Whitetails six
times a year. To join QDMA, call
(800) 209-3337 or visit
This chart shows
the percentages of
adult bucks that
made excursions:
traveling to a
new area outside
their home range, remaining in the new vicinity for 6-24 hours,
then returning to their home range 15-32 hours after first leaving
it. The proportions of those excursions that began or occurred during
daylight hours and those that were strictly noctural are shown.
Note the percentage of daytime excursions during the rut.
ment only accounted for about 25 percent of the total daily movement
during the rut, post-rut, and winter periods. Therefore, bucks
do not lie down and become essentially nocturnal after the rut. In
fact, adult buck movement remained high during the post-rut and
winter periods even though they may not be as vulnerable to harvest
as they are during the rut due to the decrease in activity levels.
Major Excursions
During the summer and early-fall periods, adult buck movements
tended to be short trips from bedding areas to feeding areas.
This changed dramatically during the rutting periods. Beginning
with the pre-rut, extensive movements throughout home ranges, or
excursions into areas outside of home ranges, were more
typical. During extensive movements, bucks covered
large portions of their home range with continuous
movement and then returned to one of their core areas
within 8-30 hours (see the map: Rut Traveler). However,
from pre-rut to post-rut, some adult bucks made excursions
outside their typical home range. These excursions
usually consisted of continuous movement out of an
individual’s home range into an area, or areas, not previously
occupied; were periodically interrupted by a period
of 6-24 hours of little to no movement; followed by a
return trip to a core area within 15-32 hours of first setting
out (see the maps: Looking for Love). They ranged
anywhere from a quarter mile to a mile outside of their
Rut Traveler: During the rut, bucks often made long, fast tours
of their entire home range. This buck left his core area (starting
at the green dot inside the yellow core area boundary) and made
a sweeping recon of his range before returning to his core area
less than 24 hours later. The blue line connects GPS waypoints
along the trip route, and waypoints are at 1-hour intervals.
Pre-Rut Rut Post-Rut
Excursions 40% 58% 20%
Day 15% 70% 30%
Night 85% 30% 70%
Just Visiting: Buck “Excursions”
Looking for Love: Many bucks made brief excursions outside their home
range during the pre-rut and rut. In the pre-rut, the buck above set off at
7 p.m. (yellow dot), and by 4 a.m. the next morning he was nearly a mile
from his core area. He returned swifly and was back in his core area by 6
a.m. During the rut, the buck below set off at 1 a.m. (green dot) on a long
trip and spent noon to midnight away from home (cluster of GPS points to
the south). He was back home nearly 24 hours after first departing.
typical home range, with the greatest percentage
of excursions occurring during the rut period,
likely related to rutting behavior and formation of
tending bonds with receptive does. Several bucks
exhibited these excursions during post-rut and
winter periods, suggesting courtship behaviors
directed at late or second-cycle estrus does (see the
map: Late in the Game).
Even though these rutting movements may
result in “missing” bucks, they were usually back
in their typical home range within a day or so.
However, one buck did not return. This particular
buck moved outside his home range, crossed
a road he had not previously crossed, and stayed
in a thicket for the better part of the day. He was
moving back across the road around dusk and
was hit by a car and killed (see the map on page 32:
Game Over). This was the only deer/vehicle collision
incident we documented, but the fact that the
buck had not crossed the road until this excursion
shows how costly these rutting movements can be.
The time of day when these movements
occurred was also interesting. During the pre-rut
and post-rut periods, the majority of these extensive
movements were nocturnal. However, during
the rut, the majority of these excursions either
began or occurred during the daytime, which would make these
bucks highly vulnerable to harvest (see the chart on page 28: Just
Visiting: Buck Excursions). Therefore, staying in the stand all day
during the rut when these extensive daytime movements occur is
likely to increase your sightings of adult bucks.
Late in the Game: A few bucks even made short excursions away from home in the
post-rut or winter periods. This buck left his home close to dusk (around 6 p.m.),
spent several hours in one distant location, and was back in his home range and in
cover by daylight. Researchers believe that late-breeding or second-cycle estrus does
explain these movements.
About the Authors: James Tomberlin recently completed his
master’s degree in wildlife management at North Carolina State
University and is currently a wildlife biologist for the Georgia
Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
Mark Conner, Ph.D., is the manager of Chesapeake Farms, and
Richard Lancia, Ph.D., is the Program Coordinator for the Wildlife
and Fisheries Program at North Carolina State University.
The Take-Home Message for QDM’ers
In our research, adult buck movement escalated from summer
to winter and peaked during the rut and post-rut periods,
which creates a concern from a management standpoint. Because
in many cases these rutting movements occur during hunting season,
you should consider how they could impact your deer management
strategies, which will vary by property size and shape,
accessibility, and hunting season.
Deer hunting seasons differ by state, and even within states;
and rutting periods vary by latitude and population demographics.
At Chesapeake Farms, the rut occurs before the majority of
deer are harvested during the two-week shotgun season, which
means the majority of significant excursions and long-range
daytime roaming are over. You should assess the timing of the
rut and hunting seasons with respect to the vulnerability of adult
bucks to harvest in your area. If your QDM goals differ from the
surrounding landowners, then rut movements may be a limitation
to your deer management efforts.
The home range results from these adult bucks, combined
with previous research at Chesapeake Farms, suggest that encapsulating
the movements of a mature buck in a Mid-Atlantic
agricultural landscape would require an area of about 1,000 acres.
Depending on its shape, this size management unit could enclose
many adult deer movements, although many other deer home
ranges will still overlap property lines. However, 90 percent of
non-industrial private forest landowners own less than 100 acres.
Therefore, to be most effective, QDM programs will require cooperation
between adjacent landowners to “plug the hole” created
by dispersal of yearling bucks and extensive movements of adult
Game Over: Because rut excursions take bucks into less familiar territory,
there are risks involved. This buck left his home range (right
side of photo) at dawn, crossed a highway he had not previously
crossed, and spent the day in a thicket (lower left). Returning home
at dusk, he was hit and killed by a car (red X).
bucks during the rut. If you are a small-acreage manager, your
QDM efforts should not be limited to deer and habitat management;
it is also critical that you establish communication with
neighbors in hopes that cooperation toward QDM goals will
Think back to the question we asked at the beginning of this
article: “Will glassing fields and setting out trail cameras in summer
provide an accurate picture of what you can expect to see
from your treestand during hunting season?” We wish we could
give you an absolute yes or no, but either of these answers would
be misleading. Our research suggests that range shifts due to
changes in food availability and cover, the onset of rutting behavior,
and specific rutting movements could result in “missing adult
bucks” when hunting season comes around – especially on smaller
or long, narrow tracts of land. Even if you manage and hunt
a large property, there will still be deer on the periphery of your
property that will use adjacent lands. Our research results put
even more emphasis on the importance of “QDM Cooperatives”
formed between you and adjacent landowners. Forming cooperatives
or maintaining a good relationship with adjacent landowners
that leads to shared QDM objectives will minimize limitations
posed by these movements and make your management
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thanks for the info SM, kinda fits into our thinking on buck travels during the rut. I think I'm seeing a slightly longer core area vacancy time period, but I'm only there for 9 days so probably not a perfect observation.
I agree. Doesn't totally fit mine either but does in a general kind of way. I doubt their test area really compares to the area I hunt, not specifically anyway. I've always seen a 3 day routine. One never really knows what makes him leave or just catch on to what we're doin at the time and make his own adjustments. Tricky suckers for sure.
Wow SM's been busy. Great info, thanks for posting that.
Wow SM's been busy. Great info, thanks for posting that.
Actually that was a copy & paste thing, Pretty easy. I really should have put a little more effort in it and made it a little more easier to read.
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