10 Shocking New Deer Study Findings All Hunters Should Know

Cutting-edge deer research is the focus of the annual Southeast Deer Study Group Meeting; here are the most-notable takeaways from this year's event that all deer hunters should know.

by Josh Honeycutt

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Each year, numerous meetings, symposiums, and other research-focused events bring whitetail experts together to discuss the most-recent deer study findings in the deer hunting world.

Southeast Deer Study Group Logo

One of these is the annual Southeast Deer Study Group Meeting, and this year it produced some truly interesting nuggets of whitetail wisdom. These are some of the highlights of the new deer study findings, information that all serious whitetail hunters should know.

CWD Is On The March

CWD On The MarchChronic wasting disease (CWD) isn’t a highly visible threat like epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). That doesn’t mean CWD isn’t deadly, though. It continues to spread throughout the country and is popping up in new counties and states.

Chronic wasting disease is the biggest threat to deer and deer hunting in North America,” said Krysten Schuler, PhD wildlife disease ecologist and co-director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab. “While our generation may only see the spread, our children and our grandchildren will see the repercussions. Today’s deer hunters are resistant to changing cultural traditions, but if we don’t take action, then we will lose the overall war. Just because you aren’t seeing dead deer in the woods, doesn’t mean that it’s not an issue.”

EHD Is A Cagey Thing

Buck At Risk of EHD?One of the most-aggravating whitetail diseases is EHD. It tends to appear out of nowhere, and its range of potential impacts are quite large. It can claim as few as one or two deer, or wipe out large swaths of populations. Its impacts are hard to predict.

Interestingly, EHD seems to adapt and change. New strains of the disease are appearing in places they weren’t previously discovered. The source of this realization is speculative. However, it certainly means that deer have little to no immunities to strains that herds haven’t previously been exposed to.



A New Disease On The Horizon

Big Buck On HorizonNot all of the new deer study findings were positive. While EHD and CWD snatch up most whitetail-disease-related headlines, yet another disease is beginning to concern wildlife experts. According to Johnathan Bordelon, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries deer program manager, the protozoan Tritrichomonas foetus was discovered in wild whitetails in Louisiana. Previously, it only occurred in cattle. However, it seems to now be present in whitetails in various areas of the state.

While the findings are considered preliminary, and the full impacts to whitetails still unknown, Bordelon says LDWF State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jim LaCour was the first to document the parasite in a buck on Sherburne WMA. “Continued surveillance by the University of Louisiana at Monroe, under the direction of Dr. Kim Tolson, has resulted in additional detections,” he said. “At this time, the detections are limited to a few public areas where surveillance has occurred.”

Given that Tritrichomonas foetus is spread through reproduction, there is concern for potential widespread impacts. Additional research is required, but it might be possible for the protozoan to impact fertility, lactation, and more.

Cattle Greatly Influence Deer

Cattle Impact On Deer


While it was expected that cattle would have some impact on whitetails, one measurable factor was rather unexpected. Bryan Spencer with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, and Ben Westfall with the National Deer Association, conveyed some interesting realizations. First, stocking rates of cattle didn’t seem to impact home range sizes of deer. This seems to suggest cattle and whitetail aren’t competing for all the same food sources. However, cattle did greatly decrease deer movement velocity, and pushed deer to move more in heavy cover.

Hunters Might Have To Adjust Harvest Practices

Deer Harvest Reduction?Numerous discussions were held on declining deer populations. Predators, habitat destruction, and a host of other threats are damaging deer numbers. As whitetailed deer densities continue to decline, hunters might have to take bigger steps to offset the issue. This might even mean shooting fewer deer each year.

Big Bucks Rarely Sire Big Bucks

Big Buck DownAnother of the notable new deer study findings is that researchers have now definitively determined that big bucks don’t always sire big bucks. In fact, the correlation is very low. This is due to numerous factors, including nutrition availability, water availability, mineral contents, and soil composition. In addition, more factors include does contributing to the antler genetic code, their motherly impact on setting young bucks up for success, and more.

Antler Genetics Are Beyond Hunters’ Control

Culling Inferior BucksMany deer hunters still think they’re impacting the herd by “culling” inferior bucks. However, we now know that is a myth. Culling isn’t effective for real-life deer management.

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“Age, nutrition, and genetics are the three factors that most control antler growth,” said Kip Adams, National Deer Association chief conservation officer. “Of these three, deer hunters and managers have the ability to impact two (age and nutrition). Research studies clearly show we can impact antler growth via genetics in captivity, but not in wild deer herds.”

Some Does Are Good Mothers, Others Aren’t

Doe with two fawnsConventional wisdom has always supported that does often start out as poor mothers and improve over time. While this might be true for some, it isn’t always the case, or even the norm.

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“Some deer are routinely more successful than others at raising fawns, and it doesn’t have anything to do with their age or experience level,” said John Kilgo with the USDA.Some does are successful out of the gate, even as yearlings, and remain successful their whole lives, whereas others are rarely successful no matter how old they are, indicating that unsuccessful mothers do not improve with time.”

Southern Deer Are Nomadic, Too

Southern Deer Are NomadicWe know northern deer often move from location to location in search of the resources they need. That said, Luke Resop, graduate research assistant with the Mississippi State University Deer Lab, recently compiled and analyzed data that shows just how nomadic deer can be, even in the South. Until recently, hunters didn’t realize this. It’s one of the more eye-popping new deer study findings.

“In our recent study looking at adult buck (at least 2.5 years old) movement with GPS collars, we found that 32 percent of bucks have a ‘mobile’ personality, where they migrate between home ranges separated by an average of 4.4 miles,” Resop said. “Mobile bucks shift between home range segments about three times per year. Our most-extreme mobile buck spends the fall/winter in Mississippi and travels 18 miles, crossing the Mississippi river, into Louisiana where he spends spring and summer.

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“The remaining 68 percent of our bucks have a ‘sedentary’ personality, which is the typical home range we think of for southern deer, where most of their movements are in a single area,” Resop continued. “Sedentary bucks go on six times more excursions than mobile bucks do, but when mobile bucks go on excursions, they tend to be a little farther from their home range and last a little longer. The average mobile buck home range is over 12,000 acres and the average sedentary buck range is just shy of 800 acres.”

Hunters Are Spending A Lot Of Money

Lastly, one of the big discussions at the annual meeting involved money and spending habits amongst hunters. According to Mark Duda from Responsive Management, in 2020 alone, deer hunters in the Southeast U.S. (15 states total) spent a shocking amount of money. This group generated almost $100 million for P-R funding; spent $125 million on license and permit fees; spent $183 million on plantings and food plots for deer hunting; and spent $990 million on land purchases and leases for deer hunting.

That’s a bunch of impressive numbers—some that might not come as a surprise for many of you.



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