As a nature observer or hunter, or if you have deer that live near your forest home, you may wonder if deer travel the same path back and forth each day. Here, we’ll break down a deer’s travel movements and patterns, and give you some insight into what these mean.
What Determines Where Deer Travel
Deer tend to travel the same path each day, which is good news if you are either watching them closely to learn about habits and behaviors or if you are a hunter trying to track and shoot down a specific animal. When you can trust that a deer is going to come back to the same place, during the same time, and act according to similar behavioral patterns, it is easier to learn about them over a long period of time and makes it more likely that you can successfully hunt them, if that is your goal.
The factors determining where deer go and for how long vary. Evolution, weather, times of day, and seasons all go into the bigger pictures of how and why deer choose to move. If you are trying to track a deer, you can’t rely on just one of these pieces and expect to find success in seeing or capturing your prized animal.
As any animal lover or hunter knows, animals have much more to them than meets the eye. Humble yourself to learn all you can about the species you are tracking, and you will be amazed at the wealth of information there is to know, all of which influences the other areas.
Deer have had to evolve and adapt for thousands of years to escape predators and thrive as a species. Their travel patterns are no exception. Just as any species in the animal kingdom who has survived generation after generation, deer adjust their behavioral patterns to ensure their own safety and the safety of their herd.
They travel the same paths each day because they know they are safe and they know what to expect. Deer eat, choose bedding areas, and mate based on instinctual memories passed down from ancestors over thousands and thousands of years. If an area is deemed safe by many members of the herd, then deer might even be known to stay in one area for extended periods of time, up to years.
They won’t abandon their bedding areas or travel paths if other deer have been shot or captured, either, which means that if you succeed in shooting one, you don’t have to abandon your blind and immediately set up shop somewhere else.
Deer are known for wandering into people’s gardens, lawns, and residential green areas, as well. Years and years ago, their deer ancestors deemed those spots “safe,” and the information passed down means that today’s deer still think these residential areas are the place to go for accessible, safe food and rest.
Weather conditions are also important factors. Deer want to be close to where they bed if a storm or high winds are on the horizon. They can feel and smell these weather changes before they actually hit, too, and so will move to places with abundant food so they can fill up before they have to hunker down. Then, once the storm has passed, they will often return to those abundant vegetative areas to feed hungrily, making up for their lost days of nutrition.
During the storms, deer can be found in areas of dense brush and high trees (if available) as this landscape provides adequate protection.
If you are a hunter and your season time falls during a stormy period, you can search for deer in the dense brush if the rain is going on or in the areas of highly accessible food when the storm has passed.
Deer also use the wind to determine which direction to travel, always walking into the wind. This is useful for hunters because on a windy day, you know to set up with the wind going away from you, so the deer come toward you. This behavior probably evolved because when deer can smell and hear predators on the wind, they will know to stay away from that area. (As a hunter, this means you need to make sure there are no scents coming off of you or your gear.)
Walking into the wind is more physically taxing, however, as you can imagine. So, if you are far enough away and a deer has been traveling a long time when it gets near your blind, you might have an advantage if they are physically spent.
Different seasons mean different traveling patterns.
Although deer travel the same paths every day, they will abandon commonly used areas with high bedding populations during hunting season. During this time, they tend to move inward to darker, denser places of the forest so that they are harder to capture. However, this can be an advantage to a whitetail hunter if they know the behavior. If you’re feeling the hunting pressure and you don’t see very many deer out in the open, move inward.
During wintertime, food is scarce and deer need to travel further in order to find ample vegetation. This means that large, open spaces which they would typically avoid are now perfect places for hunters to capture deer to fill their yearly tags. The longer distances needed to travel to find food mean that deer are also traveling more hours during the day, but since it gets dark sooner, they also have more hours when they are protected by dim light.
During this time, as well, deer move rather quickly and without much thought for dangers in the area, simply concentrating on where the scent of their preferred mate is coming from. This can often cause accidents with deer jumping in front of cars and crossing roads without a second thought, so take great caution if you are traveling in a place with “deer crossing” signs in the autumn months.
Once mating and birthing seasons have passed, however, and the young are traveling with the adults in the summer months, parent deer are more cautious, with good reason. Remember that young deer are not legal to hunt, though, so even in the unlikely event that you see a doe and fawn together, let them be so that the fawn can mature.
Time of Day
Deer not only travel around the same spot each day, but they travel at the same times of day. Their most active hours are the times just before and after dawn and twilight. The light is low during these times, and they can see better, as their eyes do not adjust well to bright, broad daylight. Their portent retina, however, give them an advantage to seeing when it is dusky or dark. This low level of vision means that deer need to use their other senses to track what is going on around them.
Daytime will usually find deer in their bedding area, resting after their morning hunt for food and water and regaining energy before they repeat this behavior in the evening. This trip is often shorter than the morning excursion.
When Deer Change Paths
There are situations, however, when deer leave their common places. Rutting, or mating, deer will search out a new place to travel if their mate preferences have changed since previous seasons. If there is no longer food in the same area, mature bucks and herds will need to move as a herd to find new vegetation.
Using One Year’s Lessons for Future Success
Just as deer learn from their ancestors and use these lessons to survive, you can use what you’ve learned in one hunting season to be more successful next year. Deer hunting means paying attention to details, and constantly try to learn something new about the animal you are preying upon. Nothing is a better measure for success than knowing your prey inside and out.
The best gear, blinds, or camouflage outfits are not going to improve your deer hunting unless you pay attention to how and where a herd of deer are traveling. Track your prey, just as it tracks you.
The Seven-Day Rule
Successful hunters are known to say things along the lines of, “I caught this buck exactly where I saw him last year.” This happens over and over, leading many hunters to follow what’s called the “Seven Day Rule.”
Basically, if you saw a mature buck in one place, during one week of a month, during a certain time of the day… but you missed him, write it down and don’t lose it. Odds are, if a deer hunter goes back to that same area during the same week of the year (try for the same time of morning or evening, too!) then they’ll probably see him again. We aren’t kidding, something that simple can mean the difference in any average hunter filling their tags and becoming a successful hunter or going home empty-handed again.
If asked to describe a deer, almost everyone would say that they are graceful, peaceful creatures. This lifestyle of traveling the same path everyday seems to fit that bill. Knowing where they are going to go and what benefits and troubles await them each day lends itself to a life that is not stressful and filled with anxiety.
Hunters often set up blinds and keep them there for a long while, and they do this because they know that deer are creatures of habit, living their active hours in the same place for a long while. If you have seen deer in an area more than once, you can make a pretty solid guess that you’ll see them there again.
Many people who share the same natural habitats as deer, but who don’t hunt, will enjoy seeing deer come back year after year, almost as if they were a member of the family. If this is your situation, try taking close up pictures of the deer near your home and identifying markings on them so you can know for sure if you see the same ones.
No matter what, it’s amazing to watch deer in their natural habitat with the knowledge of their evolutionary and survival behaviors. The more knowledge we have about an animal, the more we can appreciate its place in nature. This is humbling as an observer, as a hunter, or as both.