Deer Home Range During Rut

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This Blog Post is Taken from the Penn State University blog post of Duane Diefenbach at

Notice that deer will gravitate to a small hiding spot during deer season.  I would rather have a 50 to 100 – acre property of very good escape cover and hunt it with low impact techniques that to have 1,000 acres of open woods with 20 guys running around on ATVs and no scent control.

It also illustrates how it is impossible to influence genetics through harvesting very much as deer in bow season are running all over the place and deer born on one property will not likely live there to maturity.

One Square Mile

Posted: December 19, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds 1 square mile is the size of a buck’s home range. Is it true? And what about doe?

I’ve heard it many times that an average buck’s home range is about 1 square mile in size. And I’ve said it myself, because it’s basically true. But I rarely get asked about female deer.

If you have been following this blog, however, you know that some bucks can have really small home ranges in September. And once the rut begins those same deer can really travel.

So what is the difference in home range size between buck and doe, and how does that change over the months? Here I summarize some of our data and show you average home range size, for buck and doe. Also, we look to see if home range size during just the day differs much from all locations.

September and October

The rut gets going in mid-October so you would expect the home range of bucks to increase between those two months. And you would be right.

What’s interesting is that from September to October the average buck home range increases 55% in area. From almost 400 acres to just under a square mile (1 sq. mile = 640 acres). How about that? That square mile rule-of-thumb is right on!

But female home ranges actually shrink from 400 acres to under 200 acres. A 48% decline in area.

There’s little difference between daytime and all locations.



The rut makes November a different story. Buck home ranges explode and are nearly three times larger and average almost 3 square miles in size (3 sq. miles = 1,920 acres)! And 3 square miles is the average – one of our male had a home range of 4 square miles! So much for that 1-square-mile rule of thumb.

And female home ranges increase to an average of 255 acres.

Think about this. That buck with a 4-square-mile home range encompassed the equivalent home ranges of more than 10 females. I’d say he had good breeding potential!

For both buck and doe their home range is slightly larger in the daytime than nighttime, but not by much.



It’s not the rut anymore. Home ranges are right back where they were in September and October. Males are about 1 square mile and females are about 200 acres.

If you read our posts about movements during the rifle season for females ormales, you might expect the average daytime home range to be smaller. It is for males, but I can’t explain the slight increase for females.


The Deer Rifle Season

This is where it gets interesting. Of course, the rifle season is only 2 weeks long so you would expect the home range to be smaller just because it’s only a partial month.

But home ranges are half their size – they shrink 60% for males and 48% for females.

And look at this – both buck and doe home ranges shrink to about 100 acres during daytime (the two points don’t even separate on the graph because they’re almost identical)! Of course, if you watched the movies from the rifle season in our previous posts this makes perfect sense.


Rule of Thumb?

Before you leave thinking a square mile for a buck (except in the rut) is a good rule of thumb, let me warn you!  The deer we are studying all live in large tracts of contiguous forest and they are quite different from other parts of the state. We’ll show you how different (and explain why) in an upcoming post.

-Duane Diefenbach

About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.