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Deer transition vs. deer vacating

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
Hi Folks, it has been a few years since I have been on this forum. I just got done with opening weekend in WI and I am at my wits end. Another year with zero deer sightings. I am hoping to tap your minds into where my deer go during the fall months. Typically, starting in August or September, I start losing deer on my cameras. They just start to leave the property for some reason. The last few weeks I have been down to 1-2 deer pics a week. I have had years with zero deer on the cameras for the month of November. I seem to have plenty of deer in the spring and summer. This year, I had the most fawns ever on camera, a single, twins and triplets. Buck activity seemed to be down this year, compared to past years.

First a little history, we own 128 acres just north of hwy 64 in Oconto County, north of Nicolet Farms. The land on the east side (the side our easement road is on) has a ridgeline about 100 yards into the property, running north and south. It drops off to the west into tag alder, willow brush and tall grasses. There's also a few high ground islands scattered to the west in the tags and willow brush. A couple of these islands are 600 yards back. I would say out of 128 acres, 100 acres is lowland and 28 acres is higher ground, amounting to a small ridgeline, and the 3 islands (.25 acres in size). The high ground is mainly a mix of maples, a few conifers, aspen and oaks.

I have about 2 acres of food plots. I did make a few small plots on my ridge, about .75 acres worth. The other 1.25 acres is in the low area and with the rains and such, some years my plots flood out. That is the main reason I added some plots to my ridge.

So, I believe I have plenty of cover with the tag alder and willow brush, so I don't think that is the reason for the lack of deer in the fall. My food plots often still have leftover brassicas going into winter, well after these deer have left. My 100 acres of tags and willow border up to probably a 1,000 acres of public land, which has the same tags and willow brush habitat, less the islands. There is little to no hunting pressure on this public land, with no mature trees for anyone to hunt out of.

My original intent when purchasing the land was to make it more favorable than the surrounding public land, with hopes the deer would gravitate to my property. I figured the islands and ridgeline would be attractants as well. I have had a few years, the latest being 2017, where deer were still on my property past rifle season. But, the majority of the years, these deer just seem to start disappearing in early fall.

As a side note, the local vegetable farmer dumps his waste crops (potatoes, onions, carrots) on the neighboring 80 acres, but there are very few if any deer visiting these piles, so I really don't think it is food, unless it is a lack of food diversity. Am I lacking edge cover, habitat diversity, etc. My neighbor to the north has the same exact issue. I thought maybe my weekend work back there was driving the deer away in the fall, but my neighbor is seldom on his 200 acres and he sees the same thing.

Anyone else ever seen this issue? Any ideas what might be happening here or what my land might be lacking to keep deer into the fall months? It is common up north for deer to move into cedar swamps in the winter, but this normally takes place much later in the year. We do have a cedar swamp that starts a half to three quarters of a mile to the west of our property and one about the same distance to the north.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts or ideas...
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
I don't have any experience in your area, so I can't address your specific situation. I can say that I read some recent research data where home ranges were mapped for radio collared deer. The studies show that some deer have a fairly small home range but do occasional excursions. Other deer in other habitat show significant seasonal range changes. I presume food and pressure are driving this.

Another thing to look at is the quality of your data. I don't know what your setup is. I've seen all kinds of bias with cheap cams. In some cases, cold weather can impact batteries and camera operation. I've seen some where the detection range drops at night and others where it increase. I'm using a reliable wireless camera network with cams that run 24/7/365. I've documented pressure related changes on my place, repeatable over many years. The total number of pictures and a level of variability that is driven by changing food sources and such. The big trends are the percentage of daytime versus nighttime pictures. The percentage of daytime pics declines starting in mid-September when guys start checking treestands before the season. They decrease through archery and into muzzleloader season. There is a hump for the rut, but by the time our firearm season roll around there are very few daytime pics with a big jump in pics after dark. So, if you only have a couple of cams or they are not triggering the same at night, you may just not have a good statistical sample of the number of deer using your place. Just something to consider.

The more extreme the environment, the more I would expect larger season shifts in deer use.

Thanks,

Jack
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
Thanks for the input, Jack. While I can't say how the temperature affects my cameras (they are Bushnell Trophy Cams), we recently had a snowfall that stayed on the ground several days. I went back just before it started melting to pull camera cards and get rifle stands prepped. I had 2 deer tracks that I encountered, that was it. While I have often thought of deer moving due to changing pressure, I would anticipate a shift to nocturnal activity, which I do see as part of the progression, before they just start leaving the property. I made shifts several years ago in how I hunt the property, to try and reduce the pressure, but I have not seen positive results. We used to pretty much blanket the perimeter of the property with stands. I have since moved all of my stands to the eastern 3rd of the property (where most of my high ground is) and left the two thirds to the west (tags and willow brush) as a sanctuary and bedding area, which I seldom venture into.

I surely believe I have plenty of cover. I wonder if I am lacking decent bedding in the tags and willow brush. I have a smattering of taller trees in my tags and willow brush. I assume the base of some of these trees are on high ground. I wonder if I took a few FEL buckets of sand or dirt and built it up more, if deer would start bedding on them. Part of my issue might be not having defined bedding, where I can say with any certainty that deer bed there. I just find a bed here and there when I scout in the offseason.

I used to think pressure from wolves was causing the deer to leave in the fall, as it seemed like a pattern was developing. I would get wolves on the cameras and within a week, the deer would be gone. I have not seen that situation this year though. I am hoping the recent sale and conversion of farm fields back to wetlands (WO DOT purchased it as part of the wetlands mitigation program) makes the habitat a little less wolf friendly.
 

35-acre

5 year old buck +
I don't have the experience in your land type either. However, I would say that living in NY near Buffalo that our climates can be similar but you're still further north than me from the equator. You didn't mention how many guys are hunting your property and when you start the stand setups/cleanup, etc. That could be a factor but I would really think that would just move the deer to nighttime activity.

I know in my area I have similar issues as you've described. Deer are there all spring/summer/early fall, fawns are dropped, and so on. As season approaches they start to show up less on cameras and once season is in full swing, it's even less.

Some things to think about:
Do your deer migrate to better wintering grounds?
Places like a river bottom could be warmer, have similar edge cover and as the water level drops give them access to some vegetation.

Is weather/climate a factor?
For me, once the snow gets REALLY heavy (1 foot or better) I believe that my deer start migrating to places where the snow isn't as deep. They look for shelter, sunshine, food and water.

Do you have any south-facing slopes?
In my area, they move to the sunny side of the hills first to lay all day getting the warmth of the sun (if it's out). Deer will seek places where it's even a few degrees warmer. To us, 24 vs 26 degrees isn't much difference - it's just COLD. To deer that's calories that they burn to stay warm. I know people plant pines in rows a few feet apart of add that kind of winter buffer/bedding.

Do you have water that isn't frozen over year-round on your property?
I'm thinking that water could be an issue as you didn't mention any other than wetlands and they need water daily.

Sounds like once the snow flies you should get out there and do some walking/scouting/hunting to get more info on whats going on (tracks are way easier to find int he snow - as we know). Move those cameras off your property if you can and see if you can find the deer. Once you do you'll have to figure out why they are where you found them.

Other sources of info:
Check out some of the Jeff Doyle videos on YouTube. He hunts NH and has a different style of hunting (stalking) and videos his hunts. Maybe there's stuff you can learn from how he does things if you want to get off your land and do some scouting and still hunt at the same time. Bottom line is you have to find the deer. They didn't go to a hotel, they are still int he woods somewhere.

Also I've seen some stuff about hunting those islands that you mentioned on THP (The hunting public) - again youtube. These guys are also ground hunters and I picked up some stuff from them too. The THP channel has a TON of content on their youtube channel. Check the titles and see what looks like it would apply to your state/situation (islands, state, etc.). I recall a few episodes about them hunting a "jamboree" or "challenge" with some other youtube guys where they dropped into a state and hunted for a week with each group having to learn and show what they learned. I want to say that was in WI.

I know that both of these last suggestions are about watching "hunting shows" but these youtube guys aren't your typical hunting show. Yes, you see edited content (you don't watch 4 hours of quiet woods) but they show you everything; the good, the bad, the ugly but there is a lot of information that you can pick up. It's not sponsored, they don't have the latest equipment, and so on. They don't get a deer on every episode and they talk about how they learned the area and they hunt all over the country. Both of these channels seem to have stuff that fits your situation/sound like what you're up against.

Good luck.
 

Chainsaw

5 year old buck +
From your descrption it sounds like there is zero mast on your property, neither oaks nor apples. Either is a good reason for deer to move to in early fall. Is that the case? Time spent on the 1,000 acres of public land to see if there are any deer there and if so what the draw might be would be interesting. Scouting by either driving around your area during peak movement hours or studying google earth type maps might reveal some ideas as to where the deer move to. And visiting such places might enable you to figure out the draw they have.

Doing a browse survey of your property would be interesting and could show you the exact variety of deer food your property is growing. Looking forward to hearing what you figure out. Good luck.
 

S.T.Fanatic

5 year old buck +
DPSM for your county? How many deer do you estimate are frequenting your property before they leave?
 

rocksnstumps

5 year old buck +
I'm SW of where you are but by me we have had very wet falls especially Oct the last two years in NE WI. I'm talking like spring time flooding along rivers and in marshes. Have the water levels by you gotten unusually high compared to most falls as well?

Perhaps a combination of some wolf activity in past yrs and recently water up at levels that push deer to higher ground is daisy chaining together. Sure you have some high ground but let's face it 20-30 acres is not alot. Have you ever done a big trek in mid winter on snowshoes after things freeze up to look for trails and deer sign on public next to you? Or maybe find a friend/friend of a friend with a drone that can do some recon after they have established trails in the snow?

Again I'm a county almost two away so maybe rain events not the same. Just some random thoughts.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
I don't have the experience in your land type either. However, I would say that living in NY near Buffalo that our climates can be similar but you're still further north than me from the equator. You didn't mention how many guys are hunting your property and when you start the stand setups/cleanup, etc. That could be a factor but I would really think that would just move the deer to nighttime activity.

I know in my area I have similar issues as you've described. Deer are there all spring/summer/early fall, fawns are dropped, and so on. As season approaches they start to show up less on cameras and once season is in full swing, it's even less.

Some things to think about:
Do your deer migrate to better wintering grounds?
Places like a river bottom could be warmer, have similar edge cover and as the water level drops give them access to some vegetation.

Is weather/climate a factor?
For me, once the snow gets REALLY heavy (1 foot or better) I believe that my deer start migrating to places where the snow isn't as deep. They look for shelter, sunshine, food and water.

Do you have any south-facing slopes?
In my area, they move to the sunny side of the hills first to lay all day getting the warmth of the sun (if it's out). Deer will seek places where it's even a few degrees warmer. To us, 24 vs 26 degrees isn't much difference - it's just COLD. To deer that's calories that they burn to stay warm. I know people plant pines in rows a few feet apart of add that kind of winter buffer/bedding.

Do you have water that isn't frozen over year-round on your property?
I'm thinking that water could be an issue as you didn't mention any other than wetlands and they need water daily.

Sounds like once the snow flies you should get out there and do some walking/scouting/hunting to get more info on whats going on (tracks are way easier to find int he snow - as we know). Move those cameras off your property if you can and see if you can find the deer. Once you do you'll have to figure out why they are where you found them.

Other sources of info:
Check out some of the Jeff Doyle videos on YouTube. He hunts NH and has a different style of hunting (stalking) and videos his hunts. Maybe there's stuff you can learn from how he does things if you want to get off your land and do some scouting and still hunt at the same time. Bottom line is you have to find the deer. They didn't go to a hotel, they are still int he woods somewhere.

Also I've seen some stuff about hunting those islands that you mentioned on THP (The hunting public) - again youtube. These guys are also ground hunters and I picked up some stuff from them too. The THP channel has a TON of content on their youtube channel. Check the titles and see what looks like it would apply to your state/situation (islands, state, etc.). I recall a few episodes about them hunting a "jamboree" or "challenge" with some other youtube guys where they dropped into a state and hunted for a week with each group having to learn and show what they learned. I want to say that was in WI.

I know that both of these last suggestions are about watching "hunting shows" but these youtube guys aren't your typical hunting show. Yes, you see edited content (you don't watch 4 hours of quiet woods) but they show you everything; the good, the bad, the ugly but there is a lot of information that you can pick up. It's not sponsored, they don't have the latest equipment, and so on. They don't get a deer on every episode and they talk about how they learned the area and they hunt all over the country. Both of these channels seem to have stuff that fits your situation/sound like what you're up against.

Good luck.
Thanks for the great suggestions! I will have to explore these! I am normally the only one that bowhunts back there and it is normally just me or my son and I for gun hunting. We stick to the eastern 1/3 of the property.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
From your descrption it sounds like there is zero mast on your property, neither oaks nor apples. Either is a good reason for deer to move to in early fall. Is that the case? Time spent on the 1,000 acres of public land to see if there are any deer there and if so what the draw might be would be interesting. Scouting by either driving around your area during peak movement hours or studying google earth type maps might reveal some ideas as to where the deer move to. And visiting such places might enable you to figure out the draw they have.

Doing a browse survey of your property would be interesting and could show you the exact variety of deer food your property is growing. Looking forward to hearing what you figure out. Good luck.
I do have a few mast trees,. some oaks on my ridge and some younger apple trees. If I can keep the bears from busting off branches, I might even have some apples some day. We had a huge wind storm last July that took down a lot of my mature trees, probably 75% of them. While it produced a ton of new browse and cover, it eliminated most of my stand trees. A browse survey is a great idea. I suspect I may be lacking in this area. I know I have some red osier dogwood amongst the willows and tags, for winter browse.
 

Telemark

5 year old buck +
Do all the does and fawns leave too?
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
DPSM for your county? How many deer do you estimate are frequenting your property before they leave?
I believe DPSM by me is around 15. This past summer I had at least 3 does with fawns (6 fawns total) and 3-4 bucks throughout the summer. This is the most fawns I have ever had, which might be due to the additional cover with a lot of trees coming down in last July's storm. I am not aware that I lost a single fawn to predation, which to me indicates to some pretty decent cover. Another strange thing I have noticed with bucks, I seldom get bucks returning to the property from year to year. It is often new bucks the next year and most of them are 1.5 year olds.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
Do all the does and fawns leave too?
Yep, all deer seem to vacate at some point in late summer. I have seen some variance as to when the leave each year. Once in a while, they are still around through gun season. 2017 was my last great year, where I had 6 bucks on camera going into gun season and I had all 6 on camera after the season. That year was the exception though. Nothing jumps out at me as to why that year was different. The farmer may have had carrots planted next to me that year. I know the year he planted those, we had a lot of traffic heading to that field.
 

Telemark

5 year old buck +
Sounds like you might be lacking good fall/winter cover and food.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
I'm SW of where you are but by me we have had very wet falls especially Oct the last two years in NE WI. I'm talking like spring time flooding along rivers and in marshes. Have the water levels by you gotten unusually high compared to most falls as well?

Perhaps a combination of some wolf activity in past yrs and recently water up at levels that push deer to higher ground is daisy chaining together. Sure you have some high ground but let's face it 20-30 acres is not alot. Have you ever done a big trek in mid winter on snowshoes after things freeze up to look for trails and deer sign on public next to you? Or maybe find a friend/friend of a friend with a drone that can do some recon after they have established trails in the snow?

Again I'm a county almost two away so maybe rain events not the same. Just some random thoughts.
Yep, we have had some very wet years the past few years. I normally have water in my tags and willows until July in a typical year. With some of these recent wet years, it never dried out. That is why I was thinking some higher mounds in the tags might encourage some bedding activity. We have an irrigation system that is around part of the property that the farmer established years ago for the vegetable farm. That I am sure helps move some water, plus provides water for wildlife as well.

I do have a drone and scouting was the main reason I purchased it. I should use it to do some scouting on the public lands around me in the winter to see if I can piece this together.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
Sounds like you might be lacking good fall/winter cover and food.
Well, I think I have good cover in the tags and willows, but my ridge definitely thins out when the leaves drop. I admit I don't have good winter food on my property, besides red osier dogwood, but it just seems like in some years the deer start vacating before the summer food is really gone. I still have brassicas in my food plots that have not been touched.
 

yoderjac

5 year old buck +
Thanks for the great suggestions! I will have to explore these! I am normally the only one that bowhunts back there and it is normally just me or my son and I for gun hunting. We stick to the eastern 1/3 of the property.

Keep in mind there are two sources of hunting pressure, local pressure and area pressure. The pressure you put on by hunting is something you can control, but the pressure in the general area is out of your hands. General area pressure has an impact on deer too. We tend to think that if my small property is only hunting lightly and the surrounding ground is hunting heavily, deer will spend more time on my place. The may or may not be the case. Deer typically range in the hundreds to thousands of acres depending on the habitat and when stressed will move further. Often deer will avoid a small property with light pressure for a place significantly further away that has a better food/security ratio. Keep in mind, it is not just the quantity and quality of food, but the perceived risk of accessing it that matters. The harsher the conditions (meaning they need more food) the more risk they will tolerate.

Beyond human pressure, as others have said, natural predators play a role. Whether human or animal, fear increases the response to pressure. Pressure from other predators may also have a seasonal component to it, so land that may be safe during part of the year may be risky during another.

There are no easy answers. There is a lot of complex interaction.

Thanks,

Jack
 

Bill

Administrator
No clue up there in big woods county. But the phenomenon happens down south in our wood lot country to. I loose bucks anywhere from mid October through November. Not all but some. If they live, they return. Some just move to the other side of the farm luckily. But there is definitely a fall range shift in most herds. Food, pressure (from other deer) changing weather, falling leaves? All of the above.

I’m finding the more does I have the better my chances are.
 

H20fwler

5 year old buck +
In my area as soon as bucks go hard horn they shift, there is a very distinct summer vs fall range.


All spring summer I've got a nice bachelor group of bucks at my little woods come fall they only pass through during rut, then mid-January they move back in.
I have the opposite at the big woods, hardly any bucks around all summer come early October through late Dec bucks all over and cruising through.

I am in a very high ag area.
 

Telemark

5 year old buck +
Well, I think I have good cover in the tags and willows, but my ridge definitely thins out when the leaves drop. I admit I don't have good winter food on my property, besides red osier dogwood, but it just seems like in some years the deer start vacating before the summer food is really gone. I still have brassicas in my food plots that have not been touched.

You seem to have good summer cover, but there is something lacking that the deer just can't do without. I have a place way over to the east of you in Canada, and the deer all leave in the winter. Luckily a few hang around in fall, and there might be 3 or 4 deer on my 300 acres through November. I went up there once in the dead of winter, and the places that held deer were extremely tight cover in conifers. White cedar, juniper, pine, etc. made nearly impenetrable thermal cover that was completely sheltered from the wind, even when it came howling across the lake and through the open hardwoods.

Another spot deer bed in the fall was a couple acres of marshy area where they could lay in the sun. A friend hunting my property on the Ontario gun opener jumped a small buck in that marshy spot where the reeds/grasses were still standing and offering a bit of horizontal cover while allowing him to sun himself in the middle of the day. You might consider clearing out some of those humps in the swamp and planting dense conifers.

If I were you, I would take at least a couple days and scout/hunt the heck out of that 1000 acres of public land. You might find out where the deer are going and what they are attracted to. Fresh buck sign is relatively easy to spot, and will give you an idea of where bucks are hanging out and what kind of features they are relating to. Then in the future you can use that as a guide for what to add to your property. I would even think of that 1000 acres as part of my habitat plan. Get to know that property really well and use it in conjunction with your own property. Set some cameras up and learn all you can about the seasonal deer movements over the years. Certain patterns should emerge. This is definitely a long-term game. It has taken me about 5 years to get familiar with the public land that I hunt to the point where I am consistently taking deer.
 

ProcraftMike

A good 3 year old buck
Keep in mind there are two sources of hunting pressure, local pressure and area pressure. The pressure you put on by hunting is something you can control, but the pressure in the general area is out of your hands. General area pressure has an impact on deer too. We tend to think that if my small property is only hunting lightly and the surrounding ground is hunting heavily, deer will spend more time on my place. The may or may not be the case. Deer typically range in the hundreds to thousands of acres depending on the habitat and when stressed will move further. Often deer will avoid a small property with light pressure for a place significantly further away that has a better food/security ratio. Keep in mind, it is not just the quantity and quality of food, but the perceived risk of accessing it that matters. The harsher the conditions (meaning they need more food) the more risk they will tolerate.

Beyond human pressure, as others have said, natural predators play a role. Whether human or animal, fear increases the response to pressure. Pressure from other predators may also have a seasonal component to it, so land that may be safe during part of the year may be risky during another.

There are no easy answers. There is a lot of complex interaction.

Thanks,

Jack
I have often thought that I don't have enough pressure back by me to keep the deer moving. But, since I don't seem to have any deer back there in the fall anyways, it doesn't matter...lol. In reality, the pressure is very light to non-existent. The 80 acres south of me normally has no one on it and the 200 acres to the north of me sees very little pressure during the summer and fall. The large public to my west sees very little pressure, just because it is a very large tract of tag alder and willow brush, no trees at all. I have never seen evidence of anyone in there. If you go a mile away to the west, where it moves to higher public ground, I am sure that sees pressure in the fall. Given the home range of some deer, they could be seeing pressure over there.

I do believe the wolves have an impact, when the do move in during some falls. We have bear hunters back there in the fall running dogs as well (no trespassing means nothing to them). But, so does all the other land in that area.
 
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