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What Pressured Bucks Do (Page 2)

GPS tracking collars are revealing how bucks change their patterns when the hunting season starts.


Are Bucks Hiding Underfoot?
In the Oklahoma study, Little also analyzed the bucks’ hourly movements by breaking each day into five time blocks: morning (6-10 a.m.), midday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), afternoon (2-6 p.m.), night-1 (6-10 p.m.) and night-2 (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Once again, deer movements declined consistently within each time block after scouting and hunting activity began; however, when Little compared the impact of differing hunter densities on deer movements, things grew more interesting. This study divided the ranch into three areas: a unit with no hunters, a low-density unit with one hunter per 250 acres and a high-density unit with one hunter per 75 acres. When analyzing buck movements during the two-day preseason scouting and setup period, the high hunter-density area produced the greatest travel distances. Bucks there averaged 450-yard moves per hour, compared to 339 yards per hour in the low-hunter-density area and 380 yards per hour in the un-hunted area.

Buck travel distances during the 16-day hunts weren’t fully analyzed in time for this article, but overall, once hunting season began, bucks moved less in the hunted areas than in the un-hunted areas.

When Little shared preliminary findings at his March presentation, he said the only daily time block showing significant differences in buck movements in 2008 was midday. In the high-hunter-density areas, buck movements nearly doubled those of the low-hunter-density area; however, midday buck movements in the high-density area were nearly identical to those in the un-hunted area. In 2009, buck movements differed most during the afternoon period, with the high hunter-density area showing 1.4 times higher movements than the low hunter-density area. Again, afternoon buck movements differed little between the high hunter-density areas and the un-hunted areas.

What about actual deer sightings? Not surprisingly, hunters in high-hunter-density areas saw 1.6 times more deer than those in low hunter-density areas. “When you have more hunters afield, you’d expect more deer sightings with increased deer movements,” Little said. “The threefold greater hunter density nearly doubled the observation rate, going from 15 percent to 30 percent. But it’s also interesting that deer observations in the combined hunting areas plummeted to 3 percent by the season’s third weekend. The bucks were getting smarter and/or the hunters simply weren’t hunting certain places where deer hung out. As we analyze more of the hunters’ GPS data, we’ll get a better handle on that. The data show the deer were still there.”

How Bucks Adapt to Conditions

Karns said it’s often difficult to document cause-effect scenarios and to prove statistically that bucks learn to avoid certain areas or stand sites. As part of his Chesapeake Farms study, researchers analyzed 100-yard circles around stands, and used the bucks’ GPS data to compare their movements through stand sites before, during and after the hunting season. Karns couldn’t document enough differences to suggest bucks consistently avoid active stands. In fact, some access roads continued to attract buck activity, no matter how many times hunters or vehicles chased them off.

Karns did note distinct differences with at least one stand that got hunted often. “This stand cut off deer as they moved toward a neighboring property,” Karns said. “The hunters saw deer for a couple of days, but as time went on, the bucks stayed 50 yards deeper in the woods and then popped up out of range.”

Karns’ adviser at Chesapeake, Mark C. Conner, also noted that some individual bucks seem more inclined to avoid stands. He recalls pulling all the GPS data on four mature bucks and plotting their gun-season movements on a map. “Judging by the GPS data, two of those bucks never went near a stand during daylight,” Conner said. “But we don’t have data for every minute of every day, so I can’t say with statistical certainty it never happened. One thing we do know about mature bucks is that they don’t willingly leave cover unless they’re comfortable, and they’re seldom comfortable during shotgun season.”

What can hunters do about it? Karns said no food source is powerful enough to overcome a pressured deer’s survival instincts. He recalls neighboring hunters who tried baiting deer to pull them out of hiding during shotgun season. Weeks later, after recovering the bucks’ collars and analyzing their GPS data, Karns confirmed what he suspected: The bucks simply waited until after dark to leave their beds and hit the handouts.

If conducting deer drives isn’t part of your hunting repertoire, perhaps the only alternative is to wait them out and try again in the late-season with a bow or muzzleloader, depending on your state. As hunters increasingly stay home, and deer demand more calories to deal with cold weather, bucks feel more comfortable heading out earlier to feed at dusk.

At least that’s what hunters have long believed, and what science is now documenting with data. 

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1 Response to What Pressured Bucks Do (Page 2)

Ray wrote:
November 29, 2013

Very interesting article! Where can I find updates on the studies conducted?