For many of us, winter can also be called “waiting for spring.” Unlike our Nordic friends, most of us do not subscribe to the Norwegian motto “DET FINNES IKKE DÅRLIG VÆR, BARE DÅRLIGE KLÆR.” Translation: “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD WEATHER, ONLY BAD CLOTHING.”
Perhaps. But if you’re like me, the probability of me venturing out after hunting season in less than “ideal” winter weather is very low. What about deer? We know they are dressed appropriately. Do those short, cold days make travel less appealing? Are they curled up beside their proverbial fire waiting for daffodils?
When we looked at deer movements during the rut through January, we observed that after the rut male home ranges declined but still remained larger than in September. Females, on the other hand, had a slowly increasing home range size into January.
We are in the thick of winter now so how is that clothing holding up? And are they “hibernating” after dark like the rest of the world?
In the graphs below there is a lot to unpack. Let’s start with nighttime versus daytime home range size. For males, there is no difference. Whether the sun is up or down, they carry on as usual. I plotted them separately but, statistically, they are the same.
Females, however, change a bit. Most of the year, October–March, nighttime home ranges are larger than daytime home ranges. But in April that flips. Interesting.
But home range size is confusing and can be misleading. Female and male home ranges are largest in March? As big or bigger than the rut!?!?! That makes no sense.
Home ranges for males may be similar in size between November and March but it’s because of completely different movements.
Most males during the rut simply expand the boundaries of their home range.
But as winter lumbers on inching close to spring, there are different movements that cause home range size to increase. What we see is that deer will move to locations in late winter where there is less snow and possibly green-up occurring.
Check out Buck 85033’s winter movements over 3 years.
Every March, he moves several miles east to a south-facing slope. This is a very steep slope that has the optimal angle to melt snow.
He makes this move every year.
Consequently, many of the “large” home ranges of deer in winter are not because of increased movements like the rut, but simply shifts in their home range.
Here’s an example of a female that makes a trek to the east in the spring.
In some ways, these movements don’t make a lot of sense. It’s winter, food is scarce, and deer need to conserve their energy. Why travel miles to a different location?
They subscribe to the Norwegian way of thinking even if it’s done to escape or shorten their winter prison. Deer have figured out that there is a benefit to expending the energy to travel 2-5 miles to a location where it is likely warmer, easier to walk around, and perhaps even a bit of little green stuff popping up.
“DET FINNES IKKE DÅRLIG VÆR, BARE DÅRLIGE KLÆR.”
Strap on the snowshoes. Spring awaits on the other side of the slope!
-Duane Diefenbach and Jeannine Fleegle