January Deer Management
By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
During January whitetail deer may begin to move to their winter ranges, especially in the northern states, where the weather gets cold, the snow gets deep, the crops have been picked and the rut should be almost over. Some does, and in the north, doe fawns, may still be bred at this time. The bucks may continue to rub and scrape sporadically, especially in mid and southern states.
Before we can discuss feeding programs it's necessary to understand how deer use the habitat and how their use of the habitat changes throughout the year. There has been a lot written and said about whitetail home ranges; most of it based on the knowledge of deer in particular areas, or in particular types of habitat. However, 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 the use of bedding sites varies.
The deer herds in each area are usually made up of a doe and her female offspring, and their female offspring, etc. As long as there is available habitat, and there is not a lot of competition for home ranges, the young females usually remain in the area where they were born. With death from natural causes and hunting there are often available home ranges for the young deer to occupy. Both bucks and does may make excursions outside their home ranges, but they usually do so only to find a new home range, or during the rut. Young bucks are generally driven off the home range by their mothers when they are a year and a half old, usually before the rut. However, some young bucks may stay on their mothers home range until their second year, when they leave to find their own home range. These one and a half and two and a half year old bucks often end up on home ranges in less preferred habitat.
The geography of the area and the type of habitat often restrict the size of the home range; 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 confined 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 buck, 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.
Annual Home Range
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 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 home ranges.
Seasonal Home Ranges
In most areas even non-migratory whitetails use four different 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. Again, in general, the other end of the seasonal home range consists of an open feeding area, where the deer spend most of the night, and where they have night bedding sites. Buck home ranges 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.
These seasonal home ranges may be several miles apart, or they may overlap each other. In some cases the core area of the individual deer may be the same, 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.
In some areas 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. What this means is that the deer you see and hunt in the fall may not be there for you to feed in the winter, they may be miles away. If they aren't, and there are no other deer in the area, there is no reason to feed in that area. Before you begin a feeding program, determine how many deer there are in the area; and when and where the deer use the area during the year.
This article is adapted from T.R. Michels' Deer Managers Manual ($9.95), and from the Deer Addict's Manual, Volume 1 ($9.95).