A Scientific Approach to Deer Movement w/ Dr. Duane Diefenbach

Show Notes

Hey everyone, welcome to episode 175 of the Antler Up Podcast!

On this week's episode I was joined by Penn State Adjunct Professor of Wildlife Ecology Leader, PA Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit Dr. Duane Diefenbach.  This was a great conversation with Duane about some of his findings on the Deer-Forest Study related to deer movement.  We get into a variety of other topics associated with his findings over the years researching whitetails.  

Kicking this episode off, Duane discusses where the study is currently at and where it is heading.  This study originated 10 years ago and has a few more until they are finished with it.  It was interesting to hear Duane share how it has evolved over the years with technology that has helped them a ton with their findings and understandings.  Duane answers listener questions and elaborates on some myths whitetail hunters either swear by or not. Duane dives into some of the major factors that cause deer movement and the burning question of where deer go when the pressure rises. So tune in to hear what Duane and his team have found over the last decade in the Deer-Forest Study and what Duane has observed since the early 2000’s researching whitetails.  Check it out and let us know what you think!  Enjoy this fun episode and see you next week! 

Thanks again for all the support and best of luck out there and Antler Up!

Check out the Sportsmen's Empire Podcast Network for more relevant, outdoor content!

Show Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Antler Podcast, brought to you by Tether, the world's best saddle hunting equipment, and we have a great show for you all today. On this week's episode, I was joined by Penn State Adjunct Professor of Wildlife Ecology Leader PA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Dr. Duane Diefenbach.

This was a great conversation with Duane about some of his findings on the Deer four study related to deer movement. We get into a variety of other topics associated with his findings. Over the years researching Whitetails and kicking this episode off, Dwayne discusses where this study is currently at and where it is actually going.

The study [00:01:00] originated 10 years ago and has a few more years until they are really finished. It was interesting to hear Dwayne Sherra how it has evolved over the years with technology that really has helped them a ton with their findings. Dwayne answers listener questions and elaborates on some myth Whitetail hunters either swear by or not.

He also dives into some of the major factors that cause deer movement and the burning question of where deer go when that pressure rises. So tune in and hear what Duane and his team have found over the last decade in the Dear four study and what Duane has observed since the early two thousands researching Whitetails.

So check it out. Thank you again everybody for all of your continued support. If you like what you hear, go leave that five star review, whether it's on iTunes or on Spotify. It really means a lot to me. So thank you so much everybody. We'll see you next week. Antler up[00:02:00]

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We are live and on the other line. I'm joined by adjunct Professor of Wildlife Ecology Leader pa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Dr. Dwayne Diefenbach from Penn State University. Dwayne, thank you so much for taking the time out and coming on with me this evening. Happy to be here.

This should be fun. This is ex, I'm extremely excited. Number one, obviously being a professor at Penn State. I'm a graduate of Penn State. University it is I bleed blue and white. You could save for obviously Penn State, but I'm also a diehard Yankees [00:05:00] fan, so it runs in, I guess it runs in my soul, you could say.

But I'm ecstatic to have you on A lot of people, a lot of listeners as of recently were reaching out saying they would love to hear someone from the scientific side of things. And again, I look no further than my al la mater. Having you on Dwayne is a true honor and privilege and I'm looking forward to hearing, hearing you speak and answer some questions that we have tonight.

I'm happy to be here and yeah, looking forward to the conversation. Let's get into certain things. Right now, I want to say you're probably close to a decade, if not a decade already with the Dear four Study going on, and I know from one of the previous episodes that I've listened to you on from the N D A podcast I think if I recalled correctly, you said you, there's a couple more years left on this study.

Where are we at or where should I say, where are you and your team at as far as this study goes right now? Yeah. We began this research project in [00:06:00] 2013, but actually I'd like to back up a little bit and point out that I've been doing deer research, starting just around 2000 was the first project.

We started with a really big farm study. And all my deer research in Pennsylvania has been in conjunction with the Game Commission. And they've been really awesome to work with because we've approached all of our research saying, okay, we need to manage deer. This is what we know, this is what we don't know.

What do we, what's the most important thing to know? And we've always focused our research on getting the answer to what we really need to know. And we progressed through a fawn study, then we looked at buck harvest rates and survival and dispersal, especially related to antler point restrictions.

We've looked at female harvest rates as it relates to public and [00:07:00] private land. And then the game commission is one of the few states in the country that actually uses forest conditions in when, in, in helping them make deer management decisions. And so they use data that the US Forest Service collects and assess forest conditions and how deer could potentially be affecting that.

And so they, they use that information in their whole decision matrix in terms of how they go through and make recommendations for, to the commissioners in terms of deer harvest. And so to get back to your original question, in 2013, we had done all these research projects and we said, we're using Forest Service data to, and trying to say, okay.

Assuming that these conditions are being [00:08:00] affected by deer, but do we really know that? And so is there a better way to assess forest conditions that we could better assess how deer or having an influence so that we can make better deer management decisions? And at the same time, the Bureau of Forestry stepped in and said, Hey, we, our mandate is to manage our state, forests and deer potentially have a big impact and we'd like to know more as well.

And so in 2013, we began this project funded by both the Game Commission and the Bureau of Forestry. And it's been ongoing, and right now it will be going on through 2026. And this project I've always said really should be called the Forest Deer study. Because really we're more interested in what's going on with the forest and how deer and a couple other factors influence, influence [00:09:00] our forest conditions.

But of course, deer, the charismatic, mega vertebrate and and it rolls off the tongue a lot better. Just they deer forest studies. So that's why this project is going on. And it's been going on since 2013 because vegetation changes a heck of a lot slower than deer. Deer on an annual cycle and there's reproductions.

If you think about it, a. A cherry tree drops a seed, and that seed may not be a tree for 60, 80 years before it's in the overstory producing more seeds to create more cherry seedlings. Vegetation changes really slowly. And so for us to assess how deer might influence vegetation, we've had a, have a really long-term project which I just have to, thank the Game Commission and the Bureau of Forestry for doing that.

So where we stand now is, like you said, [00:10:00] we've, we have almost a decade worth of data. We've got, we've learned a lot about deer more, and I call it more serendipitous because, the focus is on monitoring vegetation and responses. But we've also had to monitor the deer. And with the technology we have these days with GPS collars and such we've learned a whole lot of things that we really even didn't set out to learn those things.

It's just we have the data now that we've never had in my career to answer some of those questions. So we are we have students looking at factors that influence some of the early plants that that pop up in the spring in the forest, like the Tri Trilliums and Indian cucumbers and Canada, Mayflower, which may seem unimportant, but for whitetailed deer, especially females that are about ready to give birth [00:11:00] or lactating, it's extremely important food.

So we'd like to know. Where do they, where do those plants occur and why? So we have a student looking at that. We also have a student looking at plant communities understory in our forests. What's the understory plant community and how is that related to deer or bry and other conditions like soils and competing vegetation?

We have another student who is focusing primarily on, on soils and how like the bedrock geology influences soil conditions and how that influences plant communities, which ultimately affect the food that's available for deer. And this coming fall, we have a new student starting up. Who will be focused on looking at how we estimate deer populations and developing some models that will give us [00:12:00] better estimates of deer abundance.

So I've rambled on here for quite a few minutes. Did I answer your question? Yeah. And what's really cool about this whole study thus far, like you said, for a whole decade, A lot, I'm sure even, and you could even, I would like to maybe have you elaborate on a little bit, but so that's the current state.

How has it evolved, especially from a technology standpoint? Like you said, you have all these now students almost in a subcategory looking at different things to help you at that end road. And like you said, in the 2026 year, how has that evol, how has the study really evolved and from the things that you've learned and what you're learning as you go.

Yeah, two different ways. The first one, if you just wanted to talk about Deere would be would be the technology that is basically due to cell phones. The wild, there's not a lot of money to be banned in [00:13:00] the wildlife field, but there's lots of money to be made with cell phones and they've devi devised little handheld devices that can track everywhere you can go.

And that technology has allowed these companies that make callers for Deere to use that technology. They basic, so our Deere basically wear g p s units and they collect locations and then they send that information to satellites. And I and my students can basically sit at our computers and almost get locations of deer in real time.

Not quite, but pretty darn close. So that technology has opened up a lot in terms of questions or things we can learn about how deer move. We can follow these [00:14:00] deer 24 7. We can get locations if we catch a deer in February, cuz we catch our deer January through April is when we catch them and put radio collars on them.

And if we catch one in February, we can f we can get a location every hour into the next summer before the batteries died. And so that really provides a lot of insights into dear behavior. And the other thing I would add is the one thing we didn't realize when we started this project was we knew they were important, but we didn't realize how important, and that is soil conditions.

Everyone thinks about deer, about how many are there, should there be more? Should there be less? But all those deer depend on the [00:15:00] habitat and their ability to reproduce depends on the quality of the habitat and the quality of the food that's out there. And early on in the study, we realized that we needed way more information on soils.

And we've been trying to do catch up on that since the beginning. In fact, right now, this summer, we're probably finally gonna catch up and get all the data that we need on soils, because, believe it or not there's very little known on forest soil conditions. We know lots and lots of information about ag lands, so in the valleys in Pennsylvania, we have all our soils mapped out.

We know what's what everywhere. But when you go up on the ridges around here, we really do not know a whole lot. So I would say those are the two things. That have [00:16:00] either changed this pro, that have, yeah, basically have changed the focus of this project. Excellent. Now here's like a kind of up to date question, just going off of everything.

We've recently had a really cold spell here in May, and, over the years, I'm sure you've been able to look at, and, past history when we've had like that frost that we had this past week. Did, have you noticed anything in the past where that has made an impact on certain plants come fall for deer and some food?

Yeah I suppose it can. It's really difficult because now probably the biggest factor would be mass production and a cards. And quite frankly the wildlife profession has been trying to predict acorn production and its effect on wildlife for decades. And the bottom line is that it's almost random.

You've got [00:17:00] the white oaks and the Red Oaks and how they set seed one type of oak set seed the previous year. One is the current year. I can't say what our Spring has had and what effect it's gonna have. It's really, you might as well just flip the coin.

It, basically come September we'll know what it is, it is what it is. The game commission. And actually a whole host of states along the eastern seaboard. Have a protocol for monitoring mass production because mast is really important to many different wildlife species and you can't predict how much mass you're gonna have, but if you know how much mass there is, it influences a lot of things.

If we have a big mash year, the fall Turkey harvest is gonna go down. If we have a big mash year, we know deer [00:18:00] and bear are gonna go into the winter and a lot better condition. Unfortunately, you just can't predict it. And if you're preparing for summer shooting right now, getting ready for the hunting season, and you are in need of a new arrow, then check out the Exodus, mmt, arrow Taylor built to your specific setup.

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And age. And then it goes into the genetics when it comes to antler growth and everything. And when you look at what you just said going into the winter for some of these whitetail specialty bucks, if they're going into the winter, healthier, and the last couple of winters, I would say, certain parts of the state, it's been pretty mild.

Does that give them a leg up coming into, say this upcoming springs growing season and next year? It can bucks they're, they go into winter with almost no energy reserves. They bulk up as much as they can before the rut starts in late October, and those guys are going 24 7 for a month and they lose so much weight.

So yeah, mild winter and and a lot of masks can really help them out. But I'd also add that Pennsylvania is [00:20:00] probably the one place in the country where this is, that's probably the least of our problems because like my colleagues and I have talked about it, Pennsylvania's in the sweet spot.

We don't have, in the past, we haven't had many of the diseases that they have further south, we never get a really harsh winter. If you were in northern New York or Vermont or, anywhere in, in northern New England, the winters down here do not compare. So we're really in a sweet spot.

Compared to what, if you ask that to a question to a biologist in Vermont, You get a very different answer than you would to a biologist in Pennsylvania because we just have extremely high reproductive rates. We have low winter mortality. It's not high on my list of concerns for whitetail deer.

Interesting. I like that. What I would like to [00:21:00] transition to here, Dwayne is talking about, and I think it's I would, I, from reading you and following your blog and listening to you and one of your bread and butter is the, is obviously the deer movement. And with that, I guess what's kicked things off with what are some of the, maybe to begin this discussion, what are some of the key deer movement patterns that you've noticed either from a more mature buck to a younger buck or however you see fit that you wanna answer that?

So like those key factors that are causing the deer movement and the patterns of that relationship because of that. Yeah there's different ways we can attack this question. One would be with respect to hunting and the hunting season, one is, overall in terms of seasonal patterns and that sort of thing.

So where do you wanna start? Because we talk for two hours on this, so I would say that's f that's phenomenal. Let's start it to the that, [00:22:00] I guess let's bring it into that August timeframe, right? Because I'd know a lot of people know by now that, the, that summer range is going to change slightly.

And for some it's gonna change a lot dramatically depending on the area and the deer. But let's pick it up, from that August timeframe, if that makes sense. Okay. So let's say you've got a game camera in your. Backyard or on wherever you hunt or whatever. And by August those antlers, cuz by, by mid or end of July, those antlers are set in terms of size and so you're following the, this buck or multiple bucks on your game cameras.

Those deer are in their core home range. And on the study areas where we're working on, which are large tracks of state forest land home range of a deer outside the ruts about a square mile. So both [00:23:00] males and females out, outside the rut basically have the same home range size.

And and in August it's probably. For males that's their core area. If you're seeing a deer in that area, that's their core home range. And that goes into September. And really, things don't change for bucks until probably the third week in October the fourth week of October the rut is starting to kick in.

And by early November, that's when they're just full-time in breeding mode. And so on the steady areas that we're working on, up north, we're up in the big woods up in Potter County. Our central PA [00:24:00] study areas are on Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forest, just south of State College.

They're large tracks of forested land and those deer, the, those bucks, their home range, the average is about a square mile in August. It's gonna blow up to two, three, even four square miles. And so yeah, that's where they're expending gobs of energy. And yeah the funny thing is I looked at how fast do they walk?

And they're not walking very fast. Maybe half a mile an hour. But the thing is they're basically doing that 24 7 and over the course of 30 days over the course of the rut, Those guys couldn't be walking 90 to more than a hundred miles. That's crazy. Just 24 7 like you said. Now here's to build upon that.

I'm, I've [00:25:00] you've heard of, obviously the cold front or when rain like after rain deer get up and they might be blowing up your trail cameras or to be in the woods by the time it start, stops raining. What, I guess either things that you could maybe either debunked or agree with, what are I guess some of those factors that lead into that deer movement or not deer movement that you've heard hunters talk about in the past?

Yeah. Let's see. Where do we start? There's the moon. Where are you on that one? I'm on no effect. Okay. So people of, research, wildlife researchers have addressed this issue a along for a long time. Going back to the nineties and the bottom line is that some people found a pattern and others haven't.

And it really there really isn't any pattern. And I guess the way I [00:26:00] come at it as a scientist is why would the moon influence their behavior? And I've never heard a good reason of why. And the fact y a lot of it, that oh, with the moon, their breeding activity picks up. We've had.

I've, the game commission collected almost a date, a decade worth of birth dates on on deer on, looking at embryos and date of date that females got pregnant. And it hasn't changed. It doesn't change from one year to the next. And the moon, if you look over, the rut is during November, and the full moon varies widely a, across several years because the moon is out of sink slightly.

It's on a slightly different cycle than the sun. [00:27:00] Yep. And so the full moon varies widely over the course of November. And basically November 13th is when is November 13th? Half the females have been bred in Pennsylvania. Year in and year out, it does not vary. So I would say the moon as far as I can tell and anything I've looked at has no effect on deer behavior.

The other thing is the problem is we always want to know how does the weather influence deer behavior during the hunting season? Because that's when it's really important to know how weather influenced deer behavior. And the problem is it's confounded by the fact that it's the breeding season.

And with the breeding season, like I said, throw everything out the window because the males are focused on one thing. So yeah, there is some influence of weather. [00:28:00] But from personally, I can tell you that the weather influences me more than it influences deer. Because when I'm cold and wet, I cannot sit out there all day long and I'm off the go.

Yep. But you are stuck out there all day long. And looking with our data, and I've had students at Penn State take a look at our data and see if they can see how wind and rain influences their movements. And one of my students said, yeah, I found a difference, but it's basically like walking from here to your bathroom, that's the difference.

Interesting. What about like, when it comes to, that you hear especially like with the October law, and I think we've, a lot of people have, realized that deer are still doing deer things during that timeframe, to build upon that. I guess I've heard, I've talked to other hunters on and off the podcast and it always seems like October's a [00:29:00] weird time of philosophy when it comes to hunters, right?

Like we know when the ruts happening, like you said, the first end of October, that early November timeframe. We need to be in the woods cuz and deer are, like you said, are basically moving 24 7, but that October time people are like, I don't know, hunt mornings, or I only do this, or I only do that, what are, what, from your observations and maybe your personal experience, what kind of things about October should a hunter, I don't wanna say be doing, but what, what are some things that might be able to help someone out in that side of things?

The short answer would be, I don't know. Yep. The long answer is I think the October lull is based on people looking at the archery harvest and when it occurs. And the bottom line is[00:30:00] everyone is excited when the deers, when the season opens, and they're all out there the first Saturday and maybe the first week.

And so if you look at the data that the game commission collects on wind, deer harvested, you see right off the bat a big harvest and then it drops off, and then it doesn't pick up again until late in October. And then into early Nome November, and then the harvest node just goes up and up. And what you have to keep in mind is that those simple harvest statistics are confounded by hunter effort.

So I think a lot of people go out early in October. A lot of hunters, a high percentage of them are hunting. And so you see more deer harvested and the hunting effort drops off until the rut kicks in late October. [00:31:00] And things are a lot more exciting deer moving around. So they're, there may be a lull in the sense that in early October into mid-October maybe even the third week, deer are not really moving around a lot.

And then it isn't until the end of that last week in October, and then you get into November. And then, like I said, November 13th is the peak. Half of females are pregnant by then. So half of females have been bred by the middle of November. It's just it's a combination of hunter effort deer movements, deer behavior that create this October wall.

Got it. And then talk about, the research that you're finding with, like, when it comes to these pressure deer, like where are these deer going to, I don't know how many times I've talked to [00:32:00] my dad over the last decade and certain times when, you know, especially during the rut when we are either seeing deer and no shot opportunity has have come about, or one of us fills a tag, and then one of us is saying to each other, once rival rifle season rolls around, where the heck do these deer go?

And it's a, they're all going crazy running on our side of the mountain, and all of a sudden they're no longer there. It seems like they're ghosts and yeah. Yeah, there, there's a bunch of different things going on. Like I said you see these bucks in August and September.

And then they disappear. That's because their home range went from a square mile to four square miles. So the odds of you even seeing them decline dramatically just because of their movements. I, I've looked at a lot of the deer that we've radio collared and looked at their movements.

And besides the fact that [00:33:00] the breeding season kicks in during archery, I've never seen, I really can't identify any changes in movements due to the hunting season. But that all changes with the rifle season because, we have a couple hundred thousand people who can archery hunt, but in the rifle season, which is what, 12, 10, 12 days?

Yeah. You're talking, half a million or more people out there in the woods, and that right there completely changes their behavior. And with the re again, all of my research that we've been doing over the past 10 years has been on large tracks of of forests. Tens of square miles of just contiguous forests, so you have to take that into account.

But those deer [00:34:00] know they know before, before the opening day that things are, something's going on. And, I don't, I'm not, I don't want to give deer a lot of credit. In terms of, they're not thinking ahead. Deer simply responding to hunter activity. And the deer that have run to a spot that it turns out they're unlikely to be disturbed are the ones that don't get harvested.

And I think it's more luck than they're not, how should I, how do I say this? If you asked me or told me that, oh, hunting season's opening on Monday what are you gonna do? I'm gonna think, okay, these are the things I could do. These deer are just responding to this activity.

And some of them get lucky and just, I think run to a spot where they're unlikely to get disturbed. [00:35:00] And ended up, what we've learned is that on the state forest lands, Whether it's down here in the Ridge Valley or up in the big woods in northern pa they, by five o'clock in the morning, they run to the spot and they're vetted for four or five hours and they're not moving and they've just figured it out now.

Yeah. So there's a lot more that we need to learn. People ask me questions and I'm like, yeah there's, I just don't have the information to answer, exactly how and why they do this. But I've just seen these deer repeatedly go to steep slope areas that are far from a road. And there's just, if you look at that spot, He was like, there's no way I can sleep on a deer in that spot. So yeah, it's it's a conundrum that I've, pondered about for 20 [00:36:00] plus years, and it's the GPS dollars that we have now that have provided a little bit of insight into how it happens that these bucks on public lands escape getting harvested. And like you said, going to that steepest slope and, are you finding also to, piggyback off that steep slope?

Are they going into the thickest, nastiest stuff they could get in? Because, like you said, of trying not to be, where what's the least disturbance they could really find? Yeah. So that's the thing that I don't know. Yeah. And I can't answer it because I don't have the data.

So in order to answer that question, I would need a map. Of where the thick, nasty stuff occurs. And we just don't have that type of information. Gotcha. There is some new technology coming out, it's called lidar. Some of your listeners may have heard of it. They've been able to map ancient roads in the Mayan civilization with it.[00:37:00]

In Pennsylvania, you can find like in this part of Pennsylvania, you can find the old charcoal horse and stuff. Yep. Back in the 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds. So with that lidar as that technology gets better, we'll be able to say, oh, is the understory like clear? Can you just see everywhere?

Or is it really thick? And if I had that information, then I could answer that question that you just asked, but I don't have the data yet. Wonderful. To for right now, I have one more regarding movement and I guess, till we move on again, but what is, what are some of the key things that you're noticing the difference between, mature buck movement versus that younger buck movement?

And maybe you have a categorized them already even too by, by an age, like a three year old buck is doing this compared to, say, a five year old and a half, like five and a half year old bucker, h whatever. Is there any, anything along [00:38:00] those lines that, that you've been able to see as far as like their, the difference between their movement slash behavior?

First a caveat is that in our current study we don't catch. We are, we capture deer of all ages, but we are catching deer in January through April, early April. And if that deer is eight months old, which means it was born the previous June and it would be one and a half years old in the fall, hadler, that eight month old deer that we catch does not get a radio call.

Okay? But if that deer that we catch is a year, like a year and eight months then we would put a caller. So then the first hunting season that we follow it, it's two and a half. So we're monitoring radio collaring [00:39:00] during the hunting season. Those year, two and a half, three and a half, four and a half.

Five and a half and up. And I can say from, all I can say is that I have not seen a difference among any of those. Do you? That's fascinating. Do you, when Deere are born, they have the same home range as their mother and for nails when they they may either disperse either in the spring when their mother gives birth, or it may be in the fall. So they'll 80%, 70 to 80% of males when they're a year to a year and four months old will disperse from their home range from where they were born and.

They make that movement very quick. They disperse if it's contiguous forest, they're not gonna go that far, [00:40:00] maybe four or five miles. And they're gonna make that movement within 24 hours. And then where they stop, that's their home range, basically, for the rest of their life. Now, some of those deer may make some different movements, 99% of them, that's their home range as an adult.

So we really don't see a lot of changes. We've followed some bucks for a couple of years and basically one year looks the same as the next. Wow. That's really neat. That's fascinating to know. So like when you talk about like these. Core areas in their home range. And when you talk about the pressure too, and over the last couple years you've seen it become a popular tactic of the whole bump and dump thing.

Have you seen anything regarding that? Like even on, on your [00:41:00] own hunting experience and of how that kind of still, holds true of these deer still? No. Hey I called this place home the last couple years, I'm just gonna be coming back in, into this, my area, either tomorrow or the next day.

Yeah. It's, I can sit at my computer and look at the steer's movements and, and say, yeah, this is his core range and this is what happens during the rut. But to go out on the ground, and actually I don't think. I haven't tested this. I'd love to, but I haven't tested this, but I would love to give someone, all the information we had about a deer and say, okay, now you know where his core is now, you know where he goes during the rut.

Go out hunting out there and see if you can find them. I just don't think you can do it. [00:42:00] It's you can look at, the data that we collect with these collar deer, you can see some patterns, but I don't, I, I haven't figured out a way of how could you use that information to actually walk out on the landscape and increase your odds other than, saying that you were out there in August and September and you saw this guy, if that's where you saw him in August and September and early October.

Then that's where I'd hunt them in November, because your odds are gonna be a lot lower of encountering them, but that's your best chance of finding them. That's, I have no better advice than that. I'm sorry. No, that's good. So you brought up a good point because over the last couple years, even myself, I've been trying to do something and I've seen other hunters do it.

I know Mark Canyon when, on his podcast for man, even [00:43:00] before I started my Antler Up podcast three and a half years ago, I always used to hear him create these spreadsheets and everything like that. So when it comes to using historical data, what you just talked about, what, is there really anything that we should focus in on or, and go from there?

I've talked to people that they'll even go through and look at historical weather and write that down and. Just use everything they can to their knowledge. But, I is that, are hunters wasting their time or is, or or is there more specific things that US hunters can do to really focus on when we wanna look at historical data?

Yeah. I guess one thing I would say is that, game cameras are an awesome technology. That if you had enough time and gumption and interest to, put multiple cameras out and see,[00:44:00] if you can see, where you're more likely to see a deer than, a given deer.

Then your, you could increase your odds by punting those areas even during the rut because, they're going all over creation, but they're still gonna be coming back to that core area. The other thing would be to look at topography. And the other thing to think about is there are things, so all sorts of animals use landscape features to define their home range from fish to birds.

If you pay attention to the robins around your house, the males are gonna have territories and. I can guarantee you there's a male on one side of your house and there's a male on the other. So your house is a boundary. And the same thing [00:45:00] happens with deer. And so roads and streams and other large features, they may not they don't prevent a deer.

A deer can certainly cross them. There's a drainage coming down a hillside and it's, two feet wide. They can walk across that. But those types of features tend to define the boundaries of a home range. And between having some game camera photos and looking at topography and making guesses about what roads or streams or other features, they're less likely to cross.

I've even seen some of our deer power lines pipelines or power lines will define the edge of a home range. So those types of things might help you, identify where the core area is more likely to be. But again I've cheated because I've got all these deer that I,[00:46:00] have been looking at.

But when you actually walk out on the landscape yeah, that's a whole nother ball. Okay. Spartan Forge stands at the nexus of machine learning and whitetail deer hunting to deliver truly intuitive and sign space products that saves the hundred times spent scouting, planning, and executing their hunts.

You have deer prediction, journaling, and the best maps on any hunting app platform there is. Use code antler up to save 20% off your Smart and forge membership@spartanforge.ai. Yeah. Because that's what's fascinating because as you're speaking, I'm thinking of one particular buck that has been a pain in my butt, a thorn in my butt for the last couple years, and routinely at the end of October, I'll get 'em on camera.

And my dad and I have yet to get an image of him in velvet, not one time. And so it's always by, at the end of the year, at the end of January, we'll get a, maybe a photo [00:47:00] of him and we're like, okay, he made it this far and then it's a crapshoot until the end of October. It's is he still alive?

And we have a good amount of cameras all out there and hi, our historical data is, be in the area around certain times and hopefully the encounter happens. But it's been so he's just been so difficult to actually hunt just because of he's, when we would think we were in the area.

He's, on a hole. The other side that we have a camera basically it, he's just he's been a difficult buck to try to get after. Yeah. Yeah. The only good news I can say is that if he survives the hunting season, There's at least a 90% or better chance that he'll be there for the next time he says him.

Yeah, I've heard you say that. And when I heard you when I was re-listening to a podcast that you were on and you mentioned that statistic I got really excited again all of a sudden cuz I'm like, there's still that good percentage chance he made it and oh my gosh, if he did I can't imagine what he's gonna look like [00:48:00] this year.

Big old mountain. Yeah. Big old mountain buck in northeast pa. So hoor horrible soil. So I don't know how the heck he's getting as big as he is. Yeah. Age is a, is you know, a really big factor. But look at that like we wrapped up the whole deer movement and we potentially might do like a quick listener, easy question for you to answer later.

But another question that I had it going back to the October situation and we were saying in earlier the look at for our Acor Acorn Drop and everything. And when we look at that in September, you know what, I had someone ask me to ask the plants that deer prefer during, like the time of year.

Like what plants are they seeking out first? Like as far as the browsing, is there really anything along the lines that you could potentially answer along this? In terms of the hunting season? No. Yeah. No. Okay. Nutrition [00:49:00] is really important obviously for females and of course that's gonna be spring.

And that's the things that green up, especially those small flowers and things like a lot of the lilies, the Tri Trilliums Indian Cucumber, Canada, Mayflower. For females in the spring, 90% of their diet might be these flowers on our forest floors. And then of course, summer, there's dobbs of food in the summer.

Everything is green. There's plenty to eat. Males are going to bulk up before the rut. That's before the hunting season opens, so that doesn't really help you. The only thing I could say is masked. Potentially and only if it's a spotty, right? So if it's a poor masier, but you have certain areas where [00:50:00] there's a bunch of oaks that have masked, or maybe the white oaks have are producing acorns, but the red oaks aren't, or vice versa, then that might help you focus where you wanna hunt.

But other than that I can't really see in Pennsylvania how food would influence that behavior, unless you're in an area, again, I'm talking about the big woods. Yep. If you're in an area with egg and stuff, that, that changes everything. Yeah. So here's another kind of to going off of a little bit of everything that we've talked about, and this is something that I wanted to ask you.

Throughout your 10 years on this research and then prior to that go dating all the way back to 2000, what could you think of a deer that really just puzzled you? Like though, as far as movement behavior, just when you're like, why the heck that is an outlier? Yeah. I've got two deer actually.

They were [00:51:00] both females and we did genetics. Of course, all the deer we catch, we do genetics on them. And their unrelated, their home ranges were two or three miles apart and they both made multiple movements to the north, to the exact same spot. And I have no idea why, other than I suspect there may have been maybe a camp putting out food or something.

But how on earth, one of these females actually moved five or six miles, walked in like a straight line and then went back. I can't explain it. Huh. That's interesting. What about, I've got plenty of others. Some I can explain, some I can't. But that right there, why two females unrelated.

So you [00:52:00] could think oh, if it's a mother daughter there's some learned behavior and they're both going back to this spot, but these are completely unrelated females. Making long distance movements outside their normal home range to the same spot. How about a buck story? Yeah. So we have a buck down in or had, he's no longer with us, or actually he might, no, I'm sure he is dead by now, but the caller failed.

We don't know what happened to him, but multiple years he would actually shift, completely, shift his home range during the rut. So when the rut kicked in, he moved about two or three miles to the northwest and would hang out there. And then either right before or after the hunting [00:53:00] season would move back and spend the rest of the year.

In this, in the, in this other location. Which is, most, like I said, most deer, they have a core area and during the run it expands, 2, 3, 4 times in size. This guy just picked up and left and went to a different place. Interesting. So when you see a buck on your game, camera all fall and then the rut comes and he disappears it could be a guy like that.

He just goes on to a whole different area. So speaking of bucks and another topic, and I just want to know if you've done any research or if it's even involved in it. I think I've heard you just faintly talk a little bit about it. When it comes to like buck bettings or buck betting.

Will Buck have. Crap. Ton of beds. Will he use certain beds? Is there anything that you've researched or take [00:54:00] noticed or anything while you've been in the field?

Yeah I guess the only thing I can say is that I don't have any prediction. I've looked at buck movements to see if you could, if you set up in a certain place, could you waylay this guy, cuz he's always gonna walk by there. Yep. And my conclusion was no. There was another bucket, we did a blog post on it that showed where he rested.

During the day, during the rifle season, and sometimes it was, it appeared to be like probably 50 feet off of off of state Forest Road. And you could see these different places that, he spent several hours at a time not really moving, but there was no pattern to it that I could discern.

Wh [00:55:00] what would you say, how is our current state of whitetail, herd health here in Pennsylvania compared to the years past? Like I said, Pennsylvania's in the sweet spot. Some of our management units, a real test of the health of a herd would be the percent of fawns that get pregnant north of I 80.

Hardly any and hardly any have gotten pregnant for decades. But in some of the southern parts of the state, almost 50% of FOSS can get pregnant. So to me, that's a real measure of that health of the herd is probably one of the best measures, would be the percent of fawns. That means that Fawn was born was able to gain enough weight that she would become reproductive active during her first fall breeding season.

And like I said, in some of our Southern management [00:56:00] units, it's as high as 30 or 50, 50% of funds. And so on the whole, the health of Pennsylvania's herd hasn't really. Changed a whole lot. Okay. In over the long term. I would say the one thing that concerns me is chronic wasting disease. There's been research, at West that suggests that chronic wasting disease reduces survival of adult females.

And adult females are the most important segment of the population that determines popula the potential for population growth. It is not fawn survival, it's survival of adult females. And so out west they've, there's some research that suggests that chronic wasting disease can have an impact.

I don't think we know for the Eastern us, are the productivity of whitetail deer. In [00:57:00] the Eastern US is way different than it is in Wyoming. So I don't if you asked me, I'm not sure chronic wasting disease will have a huge impact on the ability of the population to reproduce and produce more deer.

But it's a serious concern. Yeah. That that's, yeah, that's my, that, that's my only unknown and concern and uncertainty. I don't think whitetail deer are gonna go extinct in Pennsylvania because of chronic wasting disease, but we could end up with populations with huge infection rates and potentially lower reproduction.

But, so that's the best I can tell you right now. Yeah. And I know like with Pennsylvania being a rich tradition of a hunting heritage I've, I grew up hunting on a private piece where only youth hunters are [00:58:00] allowed to hunt dough or harvest dough. I guess talk briefly or however much long you'd like on, the importance of that buck to dough RA ratio.

Like, why is it important to keep dough numbers down relative to the buck ratio? It's if you were if you're a farmer and have cows on a pasture, you can only have so many cows. And it's the same thing with deer, right? The, there's only so much food out there for 'em, so it's only gonna support so many deer.

Farmers, ranchers know that. They can actually reduce the number of cattle on their pasture and make more money because the cattle that are out there are in better condition. And it's the same thing with whitetail deer. And the only way you can manage a whitetail deer population is to harvest antlerless deer.

And management of [00:59:00] whitetail deer is basically management of the female side of the population. And punter is harvesting female deer is critical to maintaining a healthy deer population in the long term. Do you have any I, I've heard people say I won't shoot a dough past, Like you the, like you said earlier of when the rut starts, begins that end of October, if she's made it this far I'm letting her go and I'm only going to harvest my buck tag.

Is what's the kind of, what would you say, is it all right? I've killed plenty of dough during rifle season. Is that's still like what's your philosophy on that? Over 90% of our adult females, so they're a year and a half or older are get pregnant.

So the only way and like I said, the most important segment of the population is [01:00:00] adult females. So the only way you're going, if you need numbers to go up, you harvest fewer females. If you need numbers to go down, you harvest more. That's critical. And so if hunters are gonna be a tool for wildlife management to manage a deer population, and basically as that tool they are telling the general public, Hey, we are part of the stewardship of not only the deer population, but the habitat, our forest that we live in.

It's critical that that hunter is engaged in harvesting antlers, deer. It's the authority for managing those deer and identifying how many deer need to be harvested has been given to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. And that's why they, monitor the condition of our forests.

They monitor the condition of the deer population, whether [01:01:00] that's numbers or reproductive rates or that sort of thing. And so they're the ones that are, setting guidelines and making recommendations for the number of deer that need to be harvested. And the allotment of antler list do tags and stuff like that.

Exactly. That is the mechanism. The, the antler list. Harvest is the mechanism by which we can make your populations go up or down. Understood. To, to wrap things up I want to ask you like, what is a misunderstood topic or strategy that you just in the back of your mind, always just chuckle or shake your head at it and put your hand over your face when you hear it.

You mean a hunting strategy? Yeah. Yeah. Or just anything related to, to deer or a hunting strategy. Anything along those lines. You caught me off guard here. I got one. Okay. Okay, go for it. So actually I had a student back in, oh, around [01:02:00] 2007. We were up on doing research up on the s sprawl state forest route 1 44 goes from like I 80 snowshoe up to Renova.

Yep. And and that's all state forest land up there and you're up on the plateau. So the roads are all along the upper part of the plateau. And then you've got these drainages that go down to the Susquehanna River. And y the conventional wisdom is that That there, the deer on public lands, there's fewer deer because everyone can hunt them and the harvest rates are higher.

And actually it's that conventional wisdom is completely wrong. It's actually the opposite. Harvest rates on public lands, large tracks of public lands are actually lower than on [01:03:00] private lands, and a lot of that has to do with access. And anyway, when what my student looked at was he looked at, we had deer that were radio collared, and he looked at where their home range was located and relative to the nearest road.

And then he also looked at hunter density. So we did aerial surveys and actually looked at hunter density and how hunter density varied from the road. And he actually found that there's a sweet spot. So if you're right next to the road, you're odds of harvesting a deer are actually low because the deer leave.

Avoid the roads. When you get too far from the road, there's no hunters to move the deer around and there's a sweet [01:04:00] spot, depending on elevation and or depending on distance to road and slope. There's a sweet spot where your chances of harvesting a deer actually are highest wonderful. Yeah that's probably one of the most interesting things we've ever discovered about.

Hunting, but it makes a lot of sense, right? Yep, it does. Right next to the road, you're gonna have higher density of hunters, more interference among hunters, more activity deer gonna leave, and if you get too far from a road, deer don't need to move because there's no one moving around. But if you can get that to that sweet spot, which is, half a mile to a third, to a half a mile from a road you've got just enough hunters to move the deer around.

And you actually are gonna have better success there. You said a word there that I wrote down [01:05:00] that I, I don't know how I blew through my mind, but you said elevation and like a lot of the studies, where, with both places of the studies, I would say I relate to where both areas that I hunt and the big woods and everything along those lines, have you noticed as far as an elevation goes where that uptick in deer movement happens?

I don't think it's elevation as much as slope. Okay. And elevation relative to other places. So it depends where the roads are. Deer, deer are gonna avoid, the road for the most part. Y yeah, it's con it's all context dependent. I know places I can picture a place where the roads go around lower parts around the streams and stuff, and then there's hills.

Yeah. It's all about access. If it's easy access there's gonna [01:06:00] be more hunters, and that means your odds of harvesting deer are gonna be less. I like it. I greatly appreciate you coming on and answering my questions, answering some of our listeners' questions, and I'm sure we will be able to build upon this.

Sure. Yep. Dr. Diefenbach where could people find your, find this re the study that you're do doing the Deer four study the blog and follow along with everything that you're doing? Yeah, it's really simple. We have a website it's deer.psu.edu. And if you go there, you'll see the blog, you'll see some information about the research.

You'll see all of the research publications that we've produced from this work over the past 10 years. And if you go to the blog, there's a link where you can provide your email and you'll get an email every time we have a new blog post. [01:07:00] Excellent. One last question. If you are hunting two days of the year, only, what two days are you hunting?

Sunny and warm. No specific dates. My favorite season is the early missile loader. Oh, okay. That looks, it's just, it's just beautiful. The weather's nice. There's the, there's migrating birds. The leaves are changing color. The deer are starting to get active.

There's just so many things that early muzzle loader season. It's just so much fun. It's a hard time for a public land bow hunter, I'll tell you that at times. Yeah. That's why I use a muzzle word. You're like you're the dumb one. That's why. I appreciate it so much, Dwayne and I'm look forward to staying in contact, looking forward to some future conversations.

And I'm f excited to continue to fall along with your dear study. Thank you [01:08:00] again everybody, for all your continued support. We'll see you next week. Until next time, aunt Laura.