Bucks Are Loyal to Home Ranges, Come Hell or High Water

Many hunters wonder if disturbances of various kinds can force deer to abandon an established home range, or whether deer will permanently leave a home range in search of better conditions, such as less hunting pressure, more abundant food, less intimidation by more dominant bucks, or greater breeding opportunities. However, numerous studies have shown that bucks are extremely loyal to their adult home ranges. The results of a 2011 University of Arkansas study greatly reinforced the idea that bucks are strongly loyal to their established home ranges even in adverse conditions. These results, and the maps in this gallery, were originally published in Quality Whitetails magazine in 2011 in an article by Dr. Don White Jr. and Christopher Watt of the University of Arkansas and Cory Gray, Dick Baxter and Dr. Brad Miller of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

University of Arkansas researchers were tracking 18 GPS-collared bucks on Choctaw Island WMA when those bucks’ home ranges disappeared beneath the Mississippi River for more than a month. Incredibly, as the maps in this gallery reveal, many deer remained in their home ranges long into the flood. The number of radio-collared bucks alive during the different flood periods are listed with each flood-period map shown in this gallery. Five of 18 bucks (27 percent) died during the flood because they stayed in their home ranges. Those that left, despite traveling many miles to escape flood waters, ultimately returned to their home ranges once the flood ended.

The first buck (1½ years) died in early May during Flood Period 3 when the river was rapidly rising. Two more bucks were lost (both 1½ years) in early June during Flood Period 5 as the river levels were dropping after cresting the previous flood period. The last two bucks (3½-plus years) died in mid-June during Flood Period 6 as the waters continued to drop. Interestingly, all five of these bucks stayed in Choctaw East during the flood. The other 13 radio-collared bucks left Choctaw East sometime during the flood and survived to return to the study area.

Click on the maps in the gallery below to see a closer look at the study area and the locations of collared bucks through seven stages of the 2011 flood.