Whitetails on the Move

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Spring for one-year-old whitetails is like graduation for high school seniors - a time to strike out on their own. Like high school graduates, some will take off for far away places and some will establish themselves just up the road from their parents.

Missouri whitetails are truly mobile critters. The deer you see on the back 40 today may or may not hang around until next year. A high percentage of young bucks leave each year but are replaced by bucks that have dispersed from somewhere else. Some young does leave too.

Adult does and their offspring sometimes make significant spring and fall movements to areas with better food and cover resources. Adult bucks have finished their dispersals but still do a lot of moving during the fall breeding period.

Dispersals, migrations and breeding movements may increase mortality rates for these wandering whitetails because they are entering territories they are not familiar with. Some will be struck by vehicles or suffer similar accidental deaths. The urge to move is strong though. It is how deer and other animals colonize new areas and mix the genetic pool and is the reason deer sometimes end up in some pretty unlikely places.

Among whitetails most dispersals occur from April to June and involve yearling deer, although some males will wait until they are 18 months to disperse. Migrations occur during spring and fall and involve both sexes and all age classes.

Deer biologists and managers have long been interested in deer movements. Knowledge of daily and seasonal deer movement patterns provides important information that aids deer management. The first real means of studying movement came with the development of the radio transmitter in the 1960s. Attached to a collar placed on a deer, the radio transmitter allows biologists to track deer movements. Since the development of radio telemetry systems, numerous studies of deer movement, including several in Missouri, have been conducted. Missouri studies using radio transmitter collars suggest that the often quoted statement that deer spend their lives within a few hundred acres may not be true, especially in the northern agricultural parts of the state.

Deer biologists describe the area over which a deer moves as its home range. Home ranges will vary depending on the time of year and the sex and age of the deer. For example, adult bucks during the fall breeding season generally have the largest home ranges, often covering a couple of square

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