Do we really know so much about deer?
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If you want to get into a heady discussion about whitetail deer, bring up the subject of deer dispersal and its relation to home range.
Doesn’t take long to realize that there are differing opinions, even among serious and experienced deer hunters. Even researchers have differing views.
If “deer dispersal” is the half-ton hairy primate in the room, “home range” is his warlike mother-in-law.
A deer in an urban area is going to have a different-sized home range than his cousin in the Adirondacks or the deep woods of Pennsylvania, right?
A hunting buddy said to me the other day in all seriousness, “I hardly saw a deer all turkey season on my property and am really worried about the population.”
But the fact is, a deer population on any given piece of property may radically vary throughout the year and from season to season.
The old notion that a whitetail deer lives virtually its entire life in any particular woodlot, regardless of the environment, has allowed us to think of deer almost like domestic animals, except without a fence that we can feed and control.
And they are OUR deer.
Though much has been written about the behavior of whitetail deer, not a lot has said about their non-territorial and nomadic nature.
In fact, many studies of deer done within enclosures has seamlessly transferred the conclusions found there to wild deer as if this fundamental change in behavior would not alter the exact aspect of study, if not the result.
Underlying the deer hunter’s conversations on gear, tactics, and techniques is our basic understanding of whitetail deer movement.
And what is that?
Seems like most hunters think of bucks as loners, Cervid Clint Eastwoods, prowling the landscape, seeking and finding trouble and love.
And the female of the species is a homebody, a stay-at-home type of gal. She’s a nice girl.
Dispersal is usually defined as a behavior when a deer, any deer, leaves its home range and heads off into the setting sun, leaving behind the old homestead and the place of his kin.
Nice and neat.
But ominous thunderheads start building up on that conceptual horizon when we attempt to define home range.
Of course a fawn isn’t going to move far and only move out of Dodge when it is old enough to.
So if that’s indeed the case, maybe we should throw out the old myths of home range and dispersal and focus on what the whitetail’s movement is through the seasons.
At least suspend them for a minute. Let’s just say that they are ideas that are getting in the way, stumbling blocks.
Old wives’ tales get in the way of understanding. Not for one minute would I say that they are deliberate falsehoods.
Course if we do toss out the two hairy beasts, we head out on the lonesome plain of critical thought and leave the clusters of researchers, shacks of biologists, and wagon trains of paid consultants behind for a minute.
And we wouldn’t have to rewrite everything, that’s everything pertaining to whitetail deer movement, that is.
If we toss out just those two phrases, “deer dispersal” and “home range,” we’ll be better hunters.
That’s a promise.
And that’s just for starters.
Droves and droves of people would be mighty upset if the notion got around that some hills and valleys are poor deer hunting no matter what kind of poster is put on a tree or land improvement is made there.
And likewise there are some honey-holes that are wonderful deer hunting spots and never had as much as a management scheme even considered there.
Just the way it is.
The concepts of deer hunting are now owned, molded, constructed, bought, tied down and all made up legal-like by a monopoly.
And unless we swallow the notions, then and only then will we be on board and a certified deer hunter.
And of course some would rather be on board than right.
So where’s Toto when you need him? Let’s pull the curtain back on the wizard.
Say anything heretical against the Church of Whitetail-ology and you risk not only excommunication but the damnation of the heretic.
The successful hunter of truly wild whitetail deer does not need to follow the dogmatic rules of the elite, does not have to invest in fields of dreams and clover, or become a bobble-head slave to the beat of one of the most excellent marketing and sales strategies that the planet has been forced to endure since global warming began – that moment when man struck the first shard of flint on an iron rock and got a spark.
But I’ll bet my last arrow that somebody back then was wagging a finger and saying, “That’s not the way we do things around here.”
At that moment, a serendipitous arrow was shot into the future.
Man, so full of himself, thinks he can control nature when he can barely control his own actions, and then only sometimes. Just because we can destroy something does not mean we can bend it along the pathways of our mind.
And likewise, jettison the old notions of home range and deer dispersal. A lot like ripping out old 2x4’s used to frame flawed, but certainly locked up concepts of whitetail management and movement.
Step outside; take a deep breath.
And isn’t it exhilarating, almost spiritual to admit to ourselves how much we don’t know?