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Understanding the Science of Whitetail Deer Movement

Dr. Bronson Strickland is the co-director of the MSU Deer Lab and is a wildlife specialist. He shares his insight from years of research on the whitetail deer and deer movement. 



Deer movement is motivated by food until breeding season. But most of the year, deer bed where they feel secure. Deer are ruminants and during that bedding time is when they are fully digesting their food. When the deer gets hungry again, they go back out to feed. Those movements are typically at sunrise and sunset. There are times when deer move throughout the day, but they usually bed during the day and at night. If there is increased hunting pressure, you may see that movement decrease. Deer may tend towards shorter distances and time of movement during hunting season. When they do move in high-pressure times, they will move more in cover than out in the open, exposing themselves to deer hunters.

Home Range of Whitetail Deer



About 70 percent of yearling bucks will disperse from where they are born. Once they set up their home range, it's usually between 600 to 1,000 acres. This area also depends on the quality of the habitat. Deer need food, cover and water. If a habitat meets all those needs, then deer won't move as much. They may be confined to 200 to 300 acres if an area meets all the deer's needs. During the rut, that home range expands. 

The Mature Buck’s Travel Range During the Rut



Whitetail buck movement increases during the rut. They will move miles away from where they normally range in search of a doe to breed. There are some bucks that will stay in their home range, others will move away during October and November and others may extend somewhat from their home range but not too much. A buck's movement during the rut just depends on that individual deer's personality.

Best Weather Conditions for Deer Hunting



Anywhere you can go with the least amount of disturbance to the deer is when you need to go deer hunting. Deer are going to move every day, so rainy weather affects the hunter more than the hunted. The main weather factor to consider is the wind. You want to be sure the wind conditions and wind direction are favorable for you to get in and out without being detected by deer. 

How Does a Cold Front Affect Deer Movement?



Deer will move every day, but you may find some increased activity as the temperature gets colder. That activity is always associated with some extreme event, such as an extreme temperature change, wind increase or barometric pressure change that occurs in concert with the weather change. 

Moon Phase Movement

Another factor that may affect deer movement is the moon phase. It seems that for every theory on deer movement during a given moon phase, there are three conflicting theories. There is also a degree of superstition around moon phase movement. If a hunter takes a mature buck on a full moon, he will forever believe that deer move more often on a full moon. Dr. Bronson has also researched deer movement during the moon phases to determine if it has any effect on when deer move. For more on deer movement and all things moon phase, check out Dr. Bronson’s work, as well as other biologists at Mossy Oak.

Every deer hunter is trying to determine when there is buck movement. Not just when they are moving, but why they are moving. There is no simple answer to these questions. Variables like the rut, food source, cover, water, wind and weather all affect buck movement. We are lucky that biologists at the MSU Deer Lab are researching the when and why of deer movement. The hope is Dr. Bronson has helped you process what is fact, fiction and superstition. The science behind the when and why could put you on a big buck this year.  

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