This Buck spins the Mississippi River and returns every year during an 18-kilometer migration - ECSEI
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This Buck spins the Mississippi River and returns every year during an 18-kilometer migration

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Luke Resop MSU graduate student putting a GPS collar on buck 140 in Mississippi.
Luke Resop equipped Buck 140 with a GPS collar in December 2020. Mississippi State University Deer Lab

Most of the white details that live in the south are homemade. They do not have to deal with the harsh winters that force deer in other regions of the country to emigrate from their summer range to a winter range every year. Each rule has its exceptions, however, and recent research Mississippi State University Deer Laboratory shows that some southern whites move around more than hunters could expect.

Using a GPS collar, researchers with the Deer lab have been tracking a particular dollar that nothing across the Mississippi River twice a year while migrating from Mississippi to Louisiana and again. Known as Buck 140, the deer traveled 18 miles during the winter of 2021, crossing the Grand Muddy to reach Louisiana. The dollar remained there until the end of the summer when he made the trip back to Mississippi. While following the same exact route this yearBuck 140 is not the only deer in the study that has shown this kind of behavior.

“[Some of] these deers behave like a northern migratory deer,” says Luke Resop, a graduate student at Mississippi State University and one of the researchers at Deer Lab. “In Michigan or North Pennsylvania or New York, deer will move from their summer range to their winter range where they can get better thermal coverage of snow and find resources. Obviously, we don’t have very severe winters in the South, but we’re noticeing that some deer still do those things. ”

The University is currently conducting two studies on white details in the Magnolia State. One is taking place in the South Delta, where Buck 140 lives for most of the year, while the other is more north in the state’s CWD zones. Both are looking closely at deer movement patterns to help Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fishing and Parks better manage white tail populations. The two studies will end at some point this fall.

Respond to hunting pressure and environmental conditions

Researchers say there are some reasons why deer in the south could travel long distances on a regular basis. One factor that the previous studies have looked—and the one that most deer hunters may agree to—is the connection between hunting pressure and deer movements.

“Adult dollars respond to hunting pressure and avoid the areas that hunters occupy,” says Steve Demarais, a well-known Echologist of deer and MSU professor who runs the laboratory research team. “We have documented when and where the hunters were and watched when and where the deer was based on their GPS locations. [We found] that wherever the hunters were during the day, dollars were usually not. ”

Demarais explains that the dollars in those studies tended to leave these heavily hunted areas during the day and return at night. These temporary movements could pale compared to the seasonal migration from public to private lands that animals do in Utah and other Western states, but show how fast deer can adapt to predators in the landscape.

Makes sense. They learned to avoid risk. It agrees with the ecological theory that when the prey are exposed to predators, they learn very quickly,” says Demarais.

There are, of course, other factors besides the hunting pressure that will make the deer move. Returning to seasonal migrations that are common among the deer populations of the northeast and west, the region of the South Mississippi Delta may not have much snow, but it does flood regularly. This leads Demarais and other researchers to believe that seasonal floods could be sufficient motivation for deer like Buck 140 to travel long distances every year.

Graph showing the movements of Buck 140 from the time he was collared until August 2021.
This map shows Buck 140 movements between December 2020 and August 2021. Mississippi State University Deer Lab

Current studies support their current theory, which is that white tail deer are more likely to be mobile when inhabiting areas with frequent high water events. Curiously, the deers that migrate regularly not only leave an area when it floods. Instead, they will travel to an area during the late winter or early spring, which is when the floods typically occur, and then return to their core are at the end of summer in preparation for the routine. This movement occurs during wet and dry years.

Although deer lab studies are the first to use GPS collars to show this seasonal behavior among white details in the south, Resop says that the previous research in the state also supported this theory. In a previous study that took place near the Great Black River in 2020, a deer known as Buck 27 traveled approximately 13 miles to reach a secondary home range during the flood season. About a third of the deer shown in that study behaved similarly.

“We were under the assumption that this was just an advantage for this Mississippi region,” says Resop. “We didn’t have any good data to suggest that it applied to a wide scale all [the state] to this latest project including Buck 140. ”

Each population needs pioneers

Since the deer lab is also tracking the whites in the northern part of the state, where the floods are less than one problem, they are able to compare and contrast the two populations. What they have found is that none of the deer with GPS in the northern part of the state suffers migrations like that which Buck 140 has carried out for the last two years in a row. During that time, almost all white collared in northern Mississippi have remained within a range of almost 800-1,200 acres.

“The mobile deer in these areas is difficult to move if the area is flooded or not,” says Resop, adding that Buck 140’s pilgrimage across the Mississippi River and the back is not even the most impressive of all deer that have traced in the South Delta.

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“Now we have a chip. It makes Buck 140’s moves look like a child’s play time,” says Resop. “It’s 18 miles away, and it left about 35 miles this past year. ”

One last take of the ongoing study of Deer Lab is that every wildlife population depends on some individuals to take risks and pioneers new areas. These deer tend to discover new places when stressors increase, explains Demarais, which can open a new territory for white-tailed populations and ensure that the species prospers regardless of conditions in a specific area.

“Every animal species, including humans, has to have a few risks,” says Demarais.

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