Springfield — It’s a story shared by Illinois hunters each deer season: an impressive buck never seen before mysteriously shows up beneath your stand.
Of course, there’s an alternate version to this tale – that impressive buck you’ve been scouting for nine months or more mysteriously dissappears from your hunting property just as the deer season opens.
Clint McCoy is trying to take the mystery out of such anecdotes.
McCoy, who was working on his Ph.D. at Auburn University, conducted research to help hunters understand buck movements and behavior near deer stands, food plots and other places the animal frequents.
The study was conducted on the Brosnan Forest Conference Center, which is owned by Norfolk Southern Railway and located in South Carolina – property that has been involved in deer research with Auburn University and various national wildlife groups for many years.
To get to the bottom of buck movement, McCoy captured bucks and outfitted them with GPS collars. The GPS collars were programmed to record a buck’s location every 30 minutes. More than 115,000 locations were recorded over the course of the study.
McCoy outfitted 40 bucks, including 10 bucks in each age class from 1.5 to 4.5 years old.
One interesting aspect of the study included a look at the impact of hunting pressure on buck movements. Before the work began, McCoy had pointed out that many hunters believe that older bucks are a bit more intelligent that younger bucks, perhaps due to experience.
To study this belief, McCoy and fellow researchers created what they call “harvest zones” around deer stands placed on the research property with a buffer representing the area around each stand in which a hunter could see and shoot a deer.
GPS reading were taken during daytime – hunting hours – to determine the movements.
“Using daytime GPS locations, we found that all bucks, regardless of age, responded negatively to increased hunting pressure,” McCoy said. “By late November the chances of a buck entering the harvest zone during daylight hours were only a quarter of what they were when the season started.”
Buck avoidance of a stand lasts about three days following hunting, the study found. But even after five days, the deer were still not as likely to visit the site as they were before the stand was hunted.
McCoy said the main finding seems to be that the more a stand is hunted, the less likely bucks are to go near it during day hours.
Another result of the research included evidence that home ranges varied among bucks, with an average range of 350 acres.
McCoy noted that there were no differences in home range based on a deer’s age.