As an avid deer hunter who spends the majority of my time on public land, I am always looking for those little nuggets of deer-hunting wisdom to help give me the edge when it comes to shooting a mature buck. While recently attending the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting in Concord, North Carolina, I came across just such a nugget. Of course, due to the nature of the meeting, I had to wade through a lot of scientific-speak and statistical analysis, but sure enough I returned home with these words of wisdom scribed in my meeting notes – “Hunt Thursdays and Fridays this deer season!” Now that may seem a little general or over-simplified, and it is; but if you’ll humor me and read on, I’ll show you that in many cases it is scientifically sound.
Obviously, killing mature bucks consistently is much more than just hunting specific days of the week, but Kevyn Wiskirchen, a student at Auburn University, presented some preliminary findings from his deer research at the meeting showing the GPS-collared deer he was monitoring “tended to allocate a higher percentage of their total daily movement to daylight hours on Thursdays and Fridays compared to other days of the week.” Not because Thursday and Friday are any more special to a deer than the other days of the week, but because the areas where these deer live is primarily hunted on the weekends. Once hunters began arriving on Friday and getting out in the field, daytime deer activity rapidly dropped and continued to drop through Saturday and Sunday. The pattern of reduced daytime movement remained relatively consistent for Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday, the deer were starting to positively respond to the lack of hunting pressure and moved more during daylight hours, and that daytime activity continued to climb until it peaked on Friday.
Now, before you submit a formal request to your boss for Thursdays and Fridays off next deer season, understand that this is not really about one day of the week being better than another: It is about the whitetail’s response to hunting pressure. If you hunt public land or a hunting lease where the bulk of the pressure is on the weekend, then Thursdays and Fridays may be your best bet for witnessing peak deer movement. But maybe you bowhunt a tract of public land that occasionally hosts a 3-day gun hunt. Whether that hunt takes place on the weekend or in the middle of the week, it makes sense to give the deer three or four days to settle back down before going back in to bowhunt. Not that you couldn’t go in and kill one the day after the hunt, but if you are limited in the days you can hunt and want to use those days wisely, play the odds by hunting the days with the most potential.
Andrew Little, with the University of Georgia, presented a similar study conducted in Oklahoma where GPS-collared deer were tracked on areas with varying degrees of hunting pressure. Each area was put into one of three categories: no hunting pressure, low hunting pressure (1 hunter per 250 acres) or high hunting pressure (1 hunter per 75 acres). Again, the take home message was that deer in the areas of higher hunting pressure move less, maintain a small micro-range and tend to stick to heavier cover.
Interestingly, it wasn’t just pressure from two-legged predators that seems to have an impact on deer behavior. In another interesting research project being conducted by the University of Georgia, researchers are looking at how south Florida deer within the range of the Florida panther may change their activity patterns in order to survive. It appears the deer have adapted to the nighttime hunting habits of the panther by moving more during daylight hours, when the panthers are least active.
So what can we, as hunters, take from all this deer research regarding hunting pressure? The key take-home message is that deer recognize the threat when hunters begin invading their territory and they respond by reducing daytime activity and sticking to heavier cover. However, these changes appear to only be temporary, and in some cases the deer will return to their previous patterns after a few days of reduced human activity. So if you share the woods with other hunters (this is especially true for us public land hunters), then you not only need to know what the deer are doing on the property, but it pays to know what the other hunters are doing as well. Knowing when and where they spend the majority of their time may point you to a spot that yields your best buck yet. Give it a try this season!
Note: Lots of additional details about these studies will be shared in future issues of Quality Whitetails magazine. If you don’t currently get the magazine, be sure to join today!