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How Big is a Whitetail's Home Range

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How Big is a Whitetail's Home Range

Old 03-09-2009, 01:50 PM
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Default How Big is a Whitetail's Home Range

From T.R. Michels

Thisis an excerpt from the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual.

Home Range, Core Area and Bedding Sites
A lot has been written and said about whitetail home ranges, core areas and bedding areas. However, much of it is based on the knowledge of deer in particular areas, or in particular types of habitat. Whitetails inhabit many different types of habitats: dense hardwood forests, mixed woodland and agricultural, prairie, southern swamp, northern tamarack bogs, open or dense coniferous forests, open agricultural, semi-open river bottoms, and various mountain types. Because of this wide range of habitats the daily habits of whitetails, their home ranges, core areas, and their use of bedding sites varies.

Home Range
Depending on the type and quality of the habitat whitetails often have traditional areas, referred to as their Home Range, that they use each year after they are 2-3 years old. The Annual Home Range of each deer consists of the area used by the individual throughout the year. Non-migratory deer may spend both the summer and winter on the same home range. However, migratory deer in the northern states or mountainous regions may have two or more widely separated seasonal home ranges used during different times of the year. Dr.'s Larry Marchinton, Karl Miller and other researchers have found that the home ranges of whitetails are generally elongated, from two to four times longer than they are wide. However, deer in open coniferous or agricultural habitat may have irregular or circular shaped home ranges.
Chart 1: Whitetail Home Range

Note: N

Note: The oval on the left is the daytime core area, the rectangles on the fright are food sources. The wandering blue line is a creek. The whie lines outline the deer's fall home range.

The size of the home ranges of deer is governed by the availability of cover and food sources. Home ranges in monocultures of pine or hardwood forests; prairie river bottoms; and primarily agricultural fields, are larger than home ranges in mixed habitats of wood lots; agricultural fields; and river bottoms. The home range of a deer is generally restricted in size by topography - mountains, ridges, bluffs, rivers and ravines can limit deer movement. The lack of cover in open prairies or agricultural areas restricts daytime deer movement and therefore usage by the deer. Home ranges are often restricted to preferred deer habitat in valleys or river drainage’s and the surrounding hills and woods. Because of the limited size of the habitat, the home ranges of several deer often overlap.

The geography of the area and the type of habitat often restrict the size of the home range of the deer; mountains, ridges, bluffs, rivers, ravines, wooded areas and open areas limit deer movement. The lack of cover in open prairies or agricultural areas restricts deer movement, particularly during the day. Because of this deer home ranges are often restricted to preferred habitat in valleys or river drainage's and the surrounding hills and woods. Because of the limited size of the habitat, the home ranges of several deer often overlap.

The type and amount of food and cover determine how many deer the habitat can hold; and the number of deer in the habitat affects the size of the home range of the deer. Deer in prime mixed habitats, with abundant food sources, generally have smaller home ranges (from 60-1000+ acres) than deer in open coniferous forests, where food sources are low and widely scattered (up to 20+ square miles).

Climate directly affects the time of year, the length of the home range, and the use of the home range by the deer. In mild mid-west or southern climates whitetails may have home ranges no longer than two miles, and they often have traditional core areas. Deer in colder northern open prairie or foothill habitat may have larger home ranges (up to 120+ miles in South Dakota), and are less likely to have traditional core areas.

The climate and the number of bucks and does in the area affect the size of the home ranges of the bucks, especially during the rut. Buck home ranges are generally larger than doe home ranges; often two or more times the size of local doe ranges; and the bucks use of their home ranges varies by the season. Bucks in mixed woodland/agricultural habitat in the mid-west may have home ranges of less than a thousand acres, to five or more square miles in size. During the summer adult bucks may use only a small portion of their home range. But, during the rut, adult buck home ranges often expand to include portions of several nearby doe and other buck home ranges.

In the hardwood forests of Mississippi Dr. Harry Jacobson calculated that the average annual range of does was 1,820 acres; bucks had average ranges of 3,773 acres, with the largest range at 5,500 acres. Dr. James Kroll found that bucks in Alberta may occupy a 3,000-acre core area and travel circuits of 20-25 miles during the rut.

Seasonal Home Ranges
In many areas even non-migratory white-tailed deer may use four different Seasonal Home Ranges; one each for winter, spring, summer and fall. In general, one end of the seasonal home range consists of the core area and daytime bedding sites, often in a wooded area, where the deer spend most of the day. The other end often consists of an open or semi-open feeding area, where the deer spend most of the night, and where they have night bedding sites. Generally speaking the seasonal home range of a deer is oblong or dog legged in nature, from three to times longer than it is wide. These seasonal home ranges may be several miles apart, or they may overlap each other. The home ranges of bucks may be from two to five times the size of doe ranges during the rut, but they often restrict their movements to a small core area during the winter, spring and summer.

Depending on the type of habitat the deer are in these seasonal home ranges may be as small as 20 to 40 acres for does, and 1.5 to 2 square miles for bucks in the mixed hardwood/agricultural areas of the East and Midwest. Because does have fawns, and they need lots of forage, they often select core areas based on the availability of food, security and comfort. This core area is defended against other does, which causes the does to spread out into available habitat to avoid conflict with each other. Because bucks are need security they generally select core areas away from other bucks, often in more secure than the does us.

In northern hardwood forest, open agricultural country or western plains, both buck and doe home ranges may cover several square miles. Missouri researchers found that there were differences in the size of the home ranges of bucks and does. The average home range of a buck was 1,576 acres, about three times the size of the doe ranges which averaged 502 acres. In Nebraska researchers found that deer ranges averaged 400 acres, although they varied greatly in size. Thomas Baumeister found that in Idaho's Clearwater River drainage the deer (including bucks) have summer ranges as small as 190 acres in the drainage's upper range; but, in October and November, the deer migrated an average of 24 miles to their winter ranges. Deer in northern Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin may migrate more than 100 miles between fall and winter Seasonal Home Ranges.

Even non-migratory whitetails may move several miles in the spring and fall as a result of snow depths, flooding or lack of food. The availability of food and the type of cover needed by the deer during each season determine which part of the annual home range the deer will use. Deer using a soybean field in August may move several miles away during the rut or the hunting season.

Core Area
Within the home range of the deer is the core area, where the deer spends much of their time during the day. In some cases the core area of the individual deer may be the same are used for one or more seasonal home ranges, but the area and size of the habitat may vary. The deer may use the northern area of its habitat in the summer and the southern area in the winter. It may use wooded areas in the winter to stay warm and open areas in the summer to stay cool.

Because the core area is used during the day it generally provides security to the deer by: by being in heavy cover; by being in an inaccessible area, such as a swamp or on steep hillside; by being in a remote location. The core area generally provides protection from the elements by being in heavy cover or by being on the downwind side of hills or woods. The core area often contains readily available food.

Bedding Sites
Deer generally use different bedding sites during the day and night, and may use different sites on different days depending on the wind speed and direction, temperature, and precipitation. Deer spend the majority of the day in secure core areas, usually in the woods, where they can bed and feed during the day. At night they often bed in open areas where they can lie down in or near food sources as they move and feed. In open terrain both daytime and night time bedding sites may be located on hillsides, or in the middle of fields or swamps, where the dear can’t be approached without sensing danger, and where they have one or more escape routes.

Although deer generally rest during the day and feed at night, they often bed down to rest, ruminate, and sleep near nighttime food sources. Because the vision of many predators is limited at night, but deer can see well enough to detect danger, deer feel more secure in open areas at night than they do during the day. Therefore they may bed in open areas, often out of the wind, during the night. Night beds can often be found in fields, at field edges, and in nearby brushy and grassy areas.

Deer may have one or more preferred bedding sites in their daytime core areas. The use of a particular bedding site is dependent on security, and is generally governed by the direction of the wind, the temperature, and the amount of precipitation. On hot windy days deer may bed on an open shelf, or in the shade of a tall tree, where they are cooled by the wind. On hot days with no wind deer may bed in shaded or in damp areas. On cool days with no wind deer may bed in areas that are out of the wind but open to the sun, where they receive warmth from solar radiation. On cold windy days with precipitation deer often bed in dense cover, or in low-lying areas where they are protected from the wind. When there is precipitation they often bed in areas with overhead cover, and may use evergreen stands where they area available, because evergreens may reduce wind speeds by up to 50 percent, which results in less body heat loss by the deer. These areas also allow the deer to smell and hear better than in areas with high winds.

Deer often bed with their backs to the wind, on a bench or rise where possible, where they can smell and hear danger from behind them and see and hear danger below and in front of them. In hilly or mountainous terrain thermal currents generally begin to fall late in the afternoon/evening hours and rise in the late morning hours. When deer bed high during the day rising thermal currents bring scents to the deer. When the deer move down to feed in the evening the currents may be still rising, bringing scent to the deer as they walk downhill. When deer bed in low-lying areas at night the thermal currents carry scents down to them. When they make their way to higher daytime bedding areas in the early morning the currents may be still falling, bringing scent to the deer as they walk uphill.

Deer bedding sites, especially those of older bucks, tend to be either in open or remote locations, that cannot be approached without the deer seeing, smelling or hearing danger; or they are on the downwind side of hillsides or benches in thick wooded, hilly or mountainous areas - where the deer can see and hear danger from downwind, and see and smell danger from upwind. During the fall in the Midwest, where the wind often blows from the northwest, I often find buck beds on southeast facing benches in wooded areas of dense underbrush, such as plum, briar (prickly ash) and buckthorn thickets.

Because their need for comfort and security changes throughout the year, the times when deer leave their bedding sites may change from fall/winter to spring/summer. In forested areas deer may begin to leave their daytime bedding areas an hour or more before sunset, and arrive at open area food sources at darkness or shortly after. In open areas, or after the leaves have fallen, deer usually get up and begin to move later in the day, often within a half an hour of sunset.
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