Buck Movement Patterns: Hunting and Managing Deer

White-tailed Deer Movement

Hunters are interested in the movements of white-tailed bucks because, let’s face it, we’re after them. The single best (and only) way to harvest a buck is to cross paths with him at some point in his life. However, learning about the movement patterns of deer also helps with managing local deer habitat and the herd itself. Identifying areas of use can influence what land managers do or don’t do for whitetail on their property.

A whitetail buck has several ranges, and they can change between seasons. A deer’s overall home range is all of the area that it occupies within it’s life. Some of this area will be used sparingly, but other parts will become part of the core range and they their movement will change depending on the season.

During the Fall Hunting Season

Buck movement during the deer hunting season varies, a lot. For one, hunting seasons vary greatly from state to state in both timing and duration so there is no one-size-fits-all for this situation. Early on (typically during archery season), movement patterns will be hard to gauge. This time of year is associated with acorn drop, additional precipitation and the green-up of cool season forbs. Food is plentiful and bucks do not tend to move much, primarily because they don’t have to.

As the season progresses bucks will really start to setup a breeding range. They will begin to make scrapes and hit more specific food sources as initial supplies play out. This is often when buck movement picks up, just before the rut sets in. They may cover more area sizing up the competition as well as the doe herd. During the rut, however, things slow down with bucks moving less but concentrating more on specific areas of their range, where does are often found.

After the rut, bucks will be looking for food and lots of it. This is when hunting isolated food sources such as previously un-pressured food plots or feeders can really pay off. A whitetail buck can drop 10-20 percent of its body weight during the rut so they will be looking for food.

Where Do Bucks Move During the Summer?

Bucks will use certain parts of their home range more at specific times of the year, and for various reasons. During the summer season, buck movement patterns become identifiable because bucks are not concerned with does, they simply go to where the food is found. Like bucks in the summer, does are preoccupied with fawn rearing at this time so they have no desire to deal with bucks. Bucks are also quite friendly towards one another throughout the spring and summer because of decreased testosterone levels, so it’s quite a summer vacation indeed.

During the summer months, which tend to be more nutritionally stressful for deer, bucks are only really worried about a few things: staying safe, finding food and keeping cool. Since there is zero (legal) hunting pressure on bucks during the hot months they have little concern with regards to human pressure. Most of the time bucks will be highly visible during the late afternoon and early evening as they venture out into open areas to feed. This accomplishes two things: they can use areas where there is food (since does are more “brushed up” with their fawns) and they can be exposed to cooling winds. They also tend to be quite nocturnal at this time of year because it’s much cooler to feed under the stars.

WiredToHunt: “…. It’s hypothesized that some of these deer were originally yearling bucks that were born on your property but dispersed at 1.5, and now they’ve come back to summer on that original range. When fall again arrives, they’ll head back to their new spot.

Another reason for the fall disappearance could be simply due to the fact that bucks simply need to move farther apart from their old bachelor party buddies, to establish their own areas and breeding rights. Inevitably this means some of the bucks on your property will need to move elsewhere. With increased testosterone in the fall, mature bucks are much less tolerant of other bucks, and therefore must move to new places to establish their own territory away from the competition of other bucks.”

Buck Movement During Fall Breeding Season

It’s widely believed that whitetail bucks will travel great distances during the breeding, rutting season. This, however, does not tend to be the case, but young bucks can be moved out of the areas where they were raised to some extent. In fact, many bucks will actually restrict their movements during the rut, using smaller areas. Research has found that bucks will use less area, but visit and re-visit areas regularly used by does. This is good news for hunters that capture bucks on their game cameras just prior to hunting season, since those animals are likely to be remain in the area throughout the breeding season.

More good news regarding buck movement patterns is that during the rut bucks tend to be more diurnal. This means they are moving more during daylight hours, so that means the chances of hunter encounter an elusive brute go up. In closing, the movement of bucks can vary from season to season. It’s not always wise to count on seeing those “summer bucks” come deer hunting season, however, those bucks hanging around before season opens up are likely to be there. If all else fails, go to where the does are and your chances go way up during the rut.

Managing for wildlife and habitat