The more astute deer hunters spend a great deal of time and effort studying their quarry and looking for behavior patterns they can use to predict movements. It’s our nature, after all to try and categorize, organize and simplify. However, sometimes we might be better served considering other aspects of human nature and applying them to the game we pursue.

You may start scouting in August by glassing the local fields at dusk to size up this year’s crop. Bucks sometimes form loose aggregations called bachelor groups this time of year and you’ll often see several together. But there’s a good chance some or even all those deer won’t be there come hunting season.

One mechanism that comes into play is yearling dispersal. While the reasons are not clearly understood, studies suggest that adult females harass the young bucks and drive them away. While certainly not intentional on the deer’s part, this could be nature’s way of avoiding inbreeding. Meanwhile, other studies suggest dispersal is caused by aggressive interaction – breeding competition – among bucks. Either way, most yearling bucks leave their natal home range some time in the fall and may travel a mile or more to establish a new home range.

Another factor that causes bucks to leave their summer home range is the urge to breed, and this is where things can get really interesting. Deer, like humans, are individuals and each may adopt a different strategy to find a mate.

Nomads are what most hunters think of when it comes to buck movement during the rut. Some bucks do indeed travel far and wide, sometimes as far as five miles or more from their core area, in search of a doe. And they may do so for an extended period. While it’s more common in areas of low deer densities, it can occur most anywhere.

Other bucks make periodic excursions. They too travel well outside their core areas but only for a day or so. And research on GPS-collared bucks showed many of these bucks visit specific areas every couple days, presumably checking out doe groups. Researchers also found these focal points may be visited by several different bucks during peak rut.

Last but not least, the home bodies. Some bucks remain largely within their home range throughout the rut, spending much of their time in the same core areas they used earlier in the fall. Others shift core areas but stick close to them during the breeding season. Still others have multiple core areas.

It turns out that whitetail bucks are a lot more like the hunters who pursue them than we would expect, or prefer. Each has a different personality, making it that much more difficult to predict what they might do. The hunter must then study the habits of an individual deer, or make his best guess and leave chances to the vagaries of fate.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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