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Wandering Deer: Do Does Take Excursions, Too?

Brow Tines and Backstrap

Wandering Deer: Do Does Take Excursions, Too?

Posted 2023-11-27  by  Josh Honeycutt

Recent research shows that bucks aren’t the only deer that go on long, unexplained trips away from home

Image: ImageBy_Tom_Reichner_doe

Why would a doe take a seemingly random vacation? Researchers aren’t sure. Image by Tom Reichner

As whitetail biologists continue to study deer movements, we’re seeing a clearer picture of how deer move about the landscape. Some deer move less. Others move more. Recently, I reported on a buck that had spring/summer and fall/winter home ranges separated by about 18 miles and the Mississippi River.

Thanks to research, we know a lot about buck home ranges and core areas, too. For example, we’ve learned that bucks sometimes take excursions outside their home ranges. But now, thanks to a recent revelation from Duane Diefenbach with the Penn State University Deer Lab, we know that does also go on excursions.

As part of a PSU study, Deer 12426 was captured in January 2017. Since then, researchers have studied 14,619 hours of GPS locations for the deer. Overall, the doe was pretty loyal to her home range, which was in Denton Hill State Park in Pennsylvania.

But during the first week of July 2017, the deer went on a long, straight trek northwest to an area she hadn’t been to since being radio-collared. She walked about .5 miles per hour and didn’t spend much time in the same location. The doe walked about 2.5 miles to the northwest, turned around and returned home. She didn’t spend enough time at any spot to produce a cluster of GPS data points. It was a quick there-and-back-again movement. Interestingly, according to PSU, the doe should have already had fawns at the time, too.

Fast forward to October. Deer 12426 took the same 2.5-mile trip again. Incredibly the northwesterly trips and return routes from July and October were almost identical and lasted about the same amount of time.

PSU deer 12426 isn’t an anomaly, either. Other deer in studies — PSU deer 17163, deer 17157, and deer 12866 — exhibited similar behaviors.

But why?

Admittedly, PSU doesn’t have the answer. Researchers still aren’t certain of why deer take excursions. And despite what we know, it shows how much we still don’t understand about whitetail movements.

What do we know? Several things:

· Whitetail does go on excursions, just like bucks.

· Deer tend to go on one to two excursions each year.

· Excursions are sometimes to blame for one-time appearances on stand or trail cameras.

· These excursions pose significant challenges to disease management.

Have you noticed excursion activity where you hunt? Chances are, it’s occurring, even if you haven’t. Bucks and does like to go on vacations, too.


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