Bucks and Core Range

Posted on February 21, 2014

 

 

Bucks and Core Range

Cracking the mystery behind where bucks prefer to live during the critical part of the hunting season.

By Lisa Price

 

The author arrowed this nice buck on her 25-acre Pennsylvania farm. She ambushed the deer as it exited the bedding area she had made.

The author arrowed this nice buck on her 25-acre Pennsylvania farm. She ambushed the deer as it exited the bedding area she had made.

A couple years ago, I had occasion to interview a hunter from Texas who’d arrowed a record-breaker. I figured it would be another “I went to a big Texas ranch and shot a gigantic whitetail” story, but it wasn’t. The guy owned a two-acre house lot, and shot the buck from the one stand he had there.

The house lot owner was a youngish guy who worked on a crew that repaired electrical outages caused by storms, so he basically lived on the road. He’d owned the house lot for several years, but due to his crazy work schedule and other life happenings, the only improvements he’d made to the property was to clear a place to build a house, and put up a tree stand.

A buddy of his cleared the lot using a dozer to push over trees and brush, shoving the debris towards the rear of the lot. The area was virtually impenetrable, in fact, the guy told me, it was a lucky thing that he’d put up his stand before the dozer work. It would have been a hard job to drag it in there afterwards.

It was just one jumbled acre. But one of the best bucks taken in Texas that year chose to bed there.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

I’d bet that the vast majority of archery hunters can only wish they had the place and the means to put in a couple food plots. And even if we do, most of us don’t have the acreage for the expanses of plots that would hold deer in one area. Instead, doing the best we can, we may scratch out an acre, maybe two, for a food plot. And although the deer use it, it’s as a pass through to somewhere else.

When I got my small farm in Pennsylvania, I couldn’t wait to put in food plots. In fact, I had food plots before I had electricity upstairs, due to my priorities! I had a small creek which touched two edges of the property and thought, with the plots and the hardwoods, I had it made. And I did see plenty of deer.

But I didn’t see a good buck until I made a change to the land that would make a deer linger there for longer periods of time. I made a bedding area – not extensive, and a lot easier than making a food plot. In this area I basically used my chainsaw to make a mess, and the deer feel comfortable there.

What I’ve learned on my little farm validates what deer biologists have learned on much larger tracts of land, and with much larger segments of the deer population. Here in Pennsylvania, the state’s Game Commission is conducting a study on buck dispersal. Changes in technology have allowed those biologists to learn much more about deer movement.

The use of radio collars on deer is nothing new, what’s new is the capability to monitor not just movement, but “activity.” With the old technology, biologists could map out a deer’s movements. With the new technology, they can see when he is moving, and when he is stationary.

DEFINING CORE RANGE

Here’s what archery hunters need to know – a buck has a home range, and within that range he has a core range. He spends 50 percent of his time in the core range area, and for the majority of that time he is stationary, or bedded.

Also, according to a recent study (Dr. Mickey Hellickson, published in Whitetail Advantage, by Dr. Dave Samual and Robert Zanglin), a buck’s home range is about three times as large as a doe’s home range BUT the better the food and security, the smaller the buck’s home range.

In other words, guys are basically lazy, but I already knew that……with no hunting pressure and an over-abundance of food, a buck’s home range is smallest in the summer months. In 2007, a North Carolina grad student named James Tomberlin studied 15 adult bucks (2 ½ year olds) on a 3,300 acre farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Here’s what he learned – a buck’s home range averaged 740 acres, with a core range of 100 acres. During the summer, the home range averaged 284 acres with a core range of 35 acres. Although the sizes of the core and home ranges changed, the ratio’s did not – the core range was about 15 percent the size of the home range, and bucks spent 50 percent of their time in the core range.

I don’t know about you. But I decided I wanted bucks to spend half their time in my area. So I bought a used Husquevarna saw and got to work. Have you heard that diamonds are a girl’s best friend? This is incorrect. Chainsaws and ATVs rank right up there.

I’d created additional food sources, but I needed to do more. I called Craig Doughery (www.northcountrywhitetails.com) for advice:

CHOOSING A LOCATION

Water is a key ingredient: If you have a creek or pond, the decision on where to make the bedding area is easy. If you don’t have a water source, make that as well – this can be as simple as hauling water to fill a livestock tub.

 

Make it a Sanctuary: Dougherty also said to consider normal activities which take place on the land, and to try to choose an area that can be skirted. If you make a bedding area, then stay out of it – unless you are on a blood trail. A bedding area is attractive to deer only if it is secure. A thick cover sanctuary is the basis of a core range.

 

Consider wind direction: What’s the prevailing wind direction during hunting season? Before you fire up the chainsaw, make a plan for positioning tree stands and blinds. If stand trees are limited, make a plan to “steer deer” by strategic felling of trees. By creating these barriers, you can “train” deer to enter and exit their sanctuary choosing the easiest means. In the area I chose, there were a couple excellent stand trees along two edges, north and south, but east and west, nothing but saplings. In the years to come, I plan to complete an extensive brush row which blocks deer movement through the saplings and steer them past the stand trees. Even if you make a small bedding area, position and use as many stands as you can, for various wind directions and various times of day.

 

Where are food sources?: Deer typically adjust their home range in late September, as the food sources change – you know, right about the time we’re scratching our heads and wondering, what happened to that buck I was seeing on my trail camera? In an ideal world, the bedding area for the core range would have a water source, and would be located between food sources.

And you may have to rethink the way you use a food plot, if you make one. Yes, you’ve invested time, money and work and made a beautiful plot, but conversely, you may realize more hunting success by thinking of it as a “nutrition” or “feeding” plot and not a “hunting” plot. Make a food plot but treat it the same way you treat your bedding area – like a sanctuary that you respect.

TIME YOUR HUNT RIGHT

I learned by accident that one of the best times to create this “sanctuary” was during the winter months. I started making my bedding area during what for us here in Pennsylvania was a rough winter, with lots of thick crust and ice. Deer were having a difficult time pawing for food. But as I ventured out to drop trees, I saw that the deer were enjoying the results of my labor, especially when I dropped sassafras trees. They were happy to be able to eat the tree tops during the dead of winter. Often I found deer standing around in the vicinity when I got there. I hoped I was already getting them accustomed to using the area. On the advice of Dougherty, I “hinge-cut” maple trees of a certain diameter, about ten inches in diameter and smaller. I made the chainsaw cut at an angle and didn’t cut all the way through, just enough to bend the tree over to the ground. The tree stays alive and sends shoots up vertically from the trunk.

In addition to creating cover, I was also creating an additional, natural food source. According to Quality Deer Management Association information, a mature forest supplies as little as 50 pounds of available forage per acre. But if you make a clear cut, the amount of available forage can increase to as much as 3,000 pounds per acre, which is the amount a forage consumer by the average adult deer.

Don’t have a tractor, or an ATV, and the implements to make a food plot? Don’t despair. You may attract and hold bucks to your property by just making a mess – as they say in the movies, if you build it, they will come.

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