Things don’t change that much during the peak of the rut.
Conventional wisdom says bucks stick close to home and follow patterns early in the fall. Then when the rut hits, they spread out across the landscape, roaming far and wide in search of prospective mates — and foiling our best hunting plans.
That contention is based on circumstantial evidence – what we see, or think we see. Recent research suggests that might not be the case.
Advancements in GPS collars now allow biologists to track deer movement on a much more extensive scale than was previously possible. Without leaving the office, they can plot minute-by-minute movement of an individual deer throughout the day, month or even an entire year. What they’re finding is traditional models of mature buck movement during the rut don’t always follow conventional deer hunting wisdom.
Biologists define a deer’s home range as the area where it spends 90 to 95 percent of its time. A deer’s core area is where it spends at least 50 percent of its time. Interestingly, one study found that mature bucks use only 5 to 10 percent of their home range for core-area activities.
More enlightening was that even during the rut, they still use only about 30 percent of their home range. If you figure out where that 30 percent is, you have a much better chance of having a close encounter with that deer. But that’s only part of the story.
Think about the people you share hunting camp with, or those who belong to your hunt club. There’s the dedicated but hard-working guy who hunts the first and last couple hours of most days but works in between. Then there’s the guy whose job and family obligations allow him to hunt only on weekends. Then there’s the self-employed guy who takes off the entire month of November to hunt. Some guys prefer to hunt the same stand, while others change where they sit on a regular basis. And there’s usually at least one who would rather walk than sit.
The point is, they’re all different. And so are deer.
Biologists have identified three different strategies bucks use to locate mates. Nomadic deer are those we traditionally think of when we picture buck movement during the rut. Some bucks leave home, traveling far and wide, perhaps as much as 5 miles or more from their core area, for an extended period. This is often the case when resources — in this case, hot does — are scarce. Still, some bucks are nomadic even in areas of high deer densities.
Other bucks make periodic excursions, traveling well outside their core areas, but typically returning within 12 to 24 hours. Even more interesting, many of these bucks have two or more focal points between 60 and 140 acres within their home ranges that they revisit every two days or so.
Researchers also found the focal points of several bucks overlapped during the peak of the rut. The researchers speculated bucks might be spacing their visits to assess female receptiveness since does come into estrus for about 24 hours.
Finally, some bucks are home bodies, remaining largely within their home range and spending a considerable amount of their time in core areas, even during peak rut.
Some had one core area, while others had multiple cores. It could be that hot does were plentiful, or it could simply be the personality of that individual buck.
The take home message is, if you want to take home more venison, you don’t necessarily need to change tactics or location when the rut hits.
A percentage of the bucks you saw during pre-rut will still be close to home. Some will make brief excursions, and if they don’t get shot by the neighbor, they’ll be back in a day or so.
Others will wander off your property for parts unknown, but don’t despair because some of your neighbor’s deer are likely to show up on your ground.
Whatever your strategy, there’s got to be a little luck involved. But learning as much as you can about the deer you hunt does improve your odds.
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• Girls’ Night Out! Does do some crazy things during the rut, too. This article was published in the November 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.