Deer have their own way of walking. That was the overall message two savvy deer professionals shared during a Greater Rochester Southern Tier Chapter of Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) lecture program at the RIT Inn and Conference Center on Feb. 22.
Matt Ross, deer biologist, and Neil Dougherty, wildlife consultant, offered their professional field findings that could help hunters and land managers to understand more about deer movement and locating where best to find trophy-sized whitetails.
Both speakers emphasized at the start and conclusion of their remarks that deer are much like human beings, varying in behaviors and movements.
Ross, during his talk “Mature Buck Movements,” credited modern trail cameras as a means to check on deer movement. But for his scientific studies conducted in the northeast and southern states his data and outcomes are based on detailed radio-collar tracking of deer locations and movement.
After a century of hunter and scientific studies, Ross said frankly, “We don’t know exactly where deer are and where they move.” His studies showed a distinct difference between deer that are homebodies and others that are travelers.
To quantify movement, the study maps indicate two areas: a home range in which a deer travels around and a core area where the deer basically resides.
Yearlings travel extensively. So Ross collected data from deer aged 2 to 7 years. “The core area is where a deer spends about 50 percent of its life; the home range expands in the summer and fall,” Ross explained.
Deer hunters using trail cameras wonder why they often do not see deer recorded on camera when hunters are afield. Ross credits food availability and rut impulses during the mating season. But his findings also included excursions deer will take that often have them off on extensive but short runs out of their home range and core area.
“Many thought these excursions were mainly during the rut period, but studies showed these trips can occur throughout the year,” Ross noted. One day-long excursion had a monitored deer travel 16 miles.
Ross suggested to hunters in search of mature, trophy-sized animals to consider deer individuality, watch for dawn-to-dusk movement, consider hunting pressure and know wind direction when heading to a stand or camera site, spend more time scouting well before the season opener and try to work different stands as the season progresses.
Neil Dougherty’s “Hunting from the Sky” presentation focused on the use of aerial photos to locate good hunting sites on the ground.
For decades, deer experts have recommended a “funnel area” through which deer travel to get from food to cover areas. “Hunters often hunt in spots they shouldn’t,” Dougherty said of treestand and ground blind areas that draw deer but not into hunter’s range.
“When it comes to hunting mature deer, the nose knows,” he said of site selection. Modern topography maps give good indications of where wind currents may shift enough to send a hunter’s scent in all directions.
He suggests first looking for large timbered areas and then make distinctions between pole timber, young trees, shrubs and grass/weed fields. Hunting site selection should be along edges where wind currents are stable and walking distance is short to reduce scent dispersal. As the hunting season progresses, hunters should also consider a site with low visibility as well as minimal scent scattering.
Hunters tend to slow up or give up after the rut, but Dougherty considers the late season a great opportunity to harvest a trophy buck. He has names for the various record book bucks he has taken over the years and he concluded, “Every targeted trophy deer I’ve hunted behaved differently,” he said.
Both speakers humbly acknowledged the wisdom of whitetails and the need to learn more about their wiles and ways, suggesting more time afield and membership in a QDMA chapter.