of the Whitetail Deer
The home range of whitetail's has been and is the subject of considerable research. The latest findings indicate that deer in good habitat generally stay within a 300 acre range. But this changes throughout the year. Home ranges are generally smaller during the winter and largest in mid summer. In autumn, a doe about to come into heat may pass through a buck's range and he will follow her until she is receptive. In addition, heavy hunting pressure or free ranging dogs may push deer outside their normal home ranges.
Whitetail's have very definite habitat requirements. They prefer wooded areas, especially hardwoods, with lots of borders or edges created by natural breaks between vegetative types or by fields or small clear cuts. Referred to as the edge effect by biologists, this type of habitat provides a variety of foods and cover types. For example, in the more heavily farmed sections of the country, deer feed on agricultural crops adjacent to woodlands. They use the woods primarily as resting and escape cover.
Knowing how to recognize and locate bedding areas is an important part of deer hunting. A bed is a pressed down spot, about the size of a man, in leaves, grass, snow, or pine needles. Many stalk hunters touch the beds to see if they are still warm. If so, they know that deer are not far away.
The location of deer beds depends largely upon the season, weather, and hunting pressure. On warm days, deer that are not being hunted hard will bed on sunny slopes and near the edges of weedy fields. On cold, cloudy and windy days, they like to bed in dense evergreens or other cover that affords protection from the elements. If hunting pressure is heavy, they often bed along the edge of a thicket where they can see what is approaching, but escape quickly into dense cover.
A spooked whitetail can run up to 40 miles per hour. If necessary, deer can run three miles or more at a speed of 20 miles per hour. And if that isn't enough, they can high jump an eight foot fence and broad jump a 25 foot wide road.
But deer will also hold tight. It is difficult for hunters to imagine just how patient a whitetail buck can be when the hunting pressure is on. Once alerted, he can become a master of camouflage and concealment. Most hunters do not realize how often they walk by deer during the course of a season. Often within a few feet! The buck will exercise a tremendous amount of patience and remain hidden until the hunter walks past.
In areas thickly populated with hunters, whitetail's will often bed down in small thickets, allowing hunters to pass within a few feet. This behavior has been documented by researchers who have outfitted deer with radio collars, then used radio-telemetry equipment to track the animals. Once it gets dark, the deer move off to feed. But before the ensuing sunrise, they return to their hiding spots where they remain throughout the day. To overcome the white tails tendency to hang tight, the hunter would do well to use binoculars and spend more time looking and a lot less time walking.
Hunters should also remember that deer are excellent swimmers and that they do not hesitate to cross water. I have seen whitetail's paddling between banks and barges on the Missouri River. I have also seen and heard of deer swimming through coves on Table Rock Lake, Missouri. Many other biologists have seen deer feeding belly-deep on aquatic vegetation.
Deer will often swim beaver swamps and ponds, or wade creeks to escape hunters or dogs. Apparently they regard water as a sort of safety barrier. When scouting for deer, hunters should study stream banks for possible trails leading out of the water and up the bank. Many times deer will cross a river or creek, or come for water at the same place. Once you discover one of these spots, take a stand nearby.
The whitetail is one of the most fascinating creatures on earth. You can never learn too much about them. The more you learn, the better you will become at hunting this elusive animal. Take time to read everything you can. If you can spend some time with a wildlife biologist, pick his brain about the life cycle of deer and their behavior. Get to know the whitetail like a good friend. With this kind of familiarity comes success.
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