New Research Sheds Light on Doe Movements Related to Breeding and Hunting Pressure

A recently completed cooperative study between SCDNR, Auburn University, and Brosnan Forest will help researchers and hunters better understand doe deer movements and behavior during the breeding season and in response to hunting pressure. According to Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator for SCDNR, this is one in a series of cooperative studies conducted in South Carolina made possible by revenue associated with deer hunter's participation in antlerless deer tag programs offered by SCDNR.

Jeff Sullivan conducted the study while working on his MS at Auburn University under the direction of Dr. Steve Ditchkoff, Ireland Professor of Wildlife Ecology. The study was conducted on the Brosnan Forest Conference Center which is owned by Norfolk Southern Railway and located in Dorchester County. According to Josh Raglin, General Manager of Brosnan Forest, "The property is actively managed for timber and wildlife and has been involved in deer research with Auburn University and SCDNR for a number of years."

Sullivan's study involved capturing does and fastening GPS collars around their necks. During the 3 year study approximately 40 does were captured with the average age being about 4 years old. The GPS units were programmed to record a location every 30 minutes and over the course of the study more than 160,000 locations were recorded.

Results of the study indicate that does exhibited changes in behavior, movements, and space use related to breeding. Does typically increased movement rate, probability of activity, and likelihood of being out of their seasonal home range as their date of conception approached. Additionally, about half of females made an excursion and temporarily left their home range around their conception date. Sullivan said, "It appears that does may exhibit these behaviors as a form of mate choice, not necessarily to pick a particular buck, but rather to increase the pool of potential bucks".

"The study also looked at the impact of hunting pressure on doe movements," said Sullivan. "Our data show that deer have the capacity to recognize and respond to localized threats posed by deer hunters in the immediate area around deer stands, food plots, and feeders. They do this by altering behavior, space use, and the times they use these areas (night for example). Furthermore, it appears that how deer respond to these localized risks is a result of the number of times a stand is hunted suggesting that deer are capable of recognizing even low levels of localized pressure from hunters, and modifying this information following additional experiences. Some deer hunters may have already believed this was the case, but we now have solid evidence supporting it."

Charles Ruth with SCDNR added, "Jeff did a great job on this project and we are in the process of working with Dr. Ditchkoff at Auburn University and the folks at Brosnan Forest to continue using GPS technology to better understand how environmental factors such as weather, moon phase, etc. affect deer movements and behaviors."

More information from Sullivan's study can be found at the following link on the SCDNR website: http://dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/pdf/Sullivan_thesis.pdf (PDF)

Information from a similar study related to bucks can be found at the following link on the SCDNR website: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/news/yr2014/nov6/nov6_buck.html