Have you wondered why some bucks seem to disappear late in the season while others show up out of the blue?
Have you ever wondered why bucks seem more difficult to pattern in late season?
New research at the Mississippi State University Deer Lab may answer those questions and indicates late season is a prime time to spend more hours in the stand.
“It’s a time to catch deer with their guard down and in an area they’re not as familiar with,” said MSU graduate research assistant Luke Resop. “They’re out cruising and it’s a great time to be in the woods. It’s when bucks, particularly mature bucks, are expanding their home range.”
The MSU Deer Lab and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks captured roughly 55 mature bucks near the Big Black River in Madison and Yazoo counties to study how they reacted to hunting pressure. They were outfitted with GPS collars and ear tags and approximately 750,000 waypoints were collected between 2017 and early 2019.
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A satellite view into a deer’s life
While the study was initially focused on bucks and hunting pressure, it has since opened more doors into the life of bucks.
When it comes to home ranges, Resop said data indicates there are two types of bucks. Sedentary bucks have a single home range of about 800 acres and make up about 68% of the population. On average, they make about six excursions per year outside of that range. In human terms, think of those excursions as day-trips.
Resop said the other 32% percent, known as mobile bucks, have two home ranges of about 6,000 acres each and relocate about three times a year. For individual bucks those relocations happen at the same time each year.
“It’s like they operate on this strange internal clock that says, ‘Bam. It’s time to go,'” Resop said.
Resop said among bucks that were tracked, these relocations peaked in January as the rut slowed. Also, excursions among all bucks were only slightly lower in January than during the more active breeding month of December.
“These bucks are trying to figure out where does in estrous are,” Resop said.
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Bucks that bounce
A third factor also came into play in January. Among mobile bucks, 79% fell into a sub-class known as bouncers. These bucks will make short trips between their home ranges.
That behavior also peaked in January with bucks moving back and forth every few days; a trip in excess of 4 miles on average. Resop said these frequent trips, which could expose bucks to more hunters, appear to be searches for remaining does in estrous.
“What we think is these bouncer bucks are trying to capitalize on these doings,” Resop said. “Once most of the breeding has taken place, it makes sense to bounce back and forth. In the month of January, we see about 25% of all the bounces.”
One of these movements brought Stacey Bradford of Louisville her biggest buck to date in January.
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Late season deer movements mean success
Bradford said a big buck came to her hunting area in late December and early January three seasons in a row. She hunted every chance she had in January and bagged the 150-class buck.
“It’s definitely the biggest deer I’ve ever killed, or my husband has ever killed,” Bradford said. “I guess it was about being at the right place at the right time.”
On Jan. 19, Hunter Riley of Caledonia harvested a 149½-inch buck he’d never crossed paths with before. After posting the buck’s photo on social media, he discovered the same buck had been photographed 6 miles away eight days earlier.
“If I hadn’t been there, I probably would have never got him on camera and never knew he existed,” Riley said. “It made a believer out of me that just because you don’t have one on camera doesn’t mean one’s not there.”
While the movements of these bucks are calculated, they may seem random to hunters and difficult to pattern, but for hunters willing to spend time in the woods it can be productive.
“One of the clear trends is the late season is a good time to be in the woods,” Resop said. “If people are willing to put in the effort those last few weeks, it’s a great time to capitalize on those bucks looking for those last few doing.”