Deer Dispersal Patterns

John E. from West Virginia writes to ask about deer dispersal. “I’ve heard that all yearling bucks will emigrate in the fall over 10 miles from where they were born. Is this true? And if they disperse, what causes them to do so?”

Dr. Dave Samuel
Dr. Dave Samuel

John, latest studies show that between 40 percent to 80 percent of all yearling whitetail bucks move around five miles from their birth range.

One benefit of such dispersal might be that it keeps the gene pool in an area varied, i.e., you don’t end up with inbreeding. A bunch of young bucks leave an area, and another bunch will move in.

An interesting new study shows that if you have high doe numbers, dispersal is higher. If you lower the doe numbers and let the small bucks live (i.e., quality deer management), then buck dispersal rates decrease from 80 percent to 55 percent.

Also, another new study from Pennsylvania suggests that the more forested habitat you have, the lower the dispersal rate. And in more open habitat the dispersal distance is also higher than what you find in more forested habitats. Based on these new studies, it appears there is a lot more about dispersal that we do not know.

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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