Journey Behind A White-Tail!

Hunters spotting white-tailed deer wearing bright orange collars with big yellow tags in their ears can be assured that they are not dressed for Halloween but have been

Unusual photo of a deer and his wildlife friends. Note the tag in his ear.

selected for a study that has been underway for sometime revealing the movement of these creatures in Pennsylvania. One deer, who wasn’t named, but rather given the number 8917, was chosen at Bald Eagle State Forest and was under surveillance for two years.

I’ve decided to name this fellow and am calling him, “Swifty.” Their swift, graceful movements have always impressed me as every year we watch some of “Swifty’s cohorts” make our yard one of their favorite pastures. When chosen for this study,”Swifty” was an adult buck. You’ve probably already guessed that the use of a GPS makes these projects possible. In order to allow the GPS to be placed around his neck, “Swifty” was darted with a tranquilizer gun and when he awoke he was ready to be part of an interesting project. By the way, hunters are asked not to harvest deer wearing orange collars, other deer, also part of the study, but wearing brown collars, may be harvested.

We’ve all become fans of the GPS. Nearly everyone of us puts one to use when planning a trip. With the information it supplies us, we are able to drive right to our

The collar can be clearly seen in this photo.

The collar can be clearly seen in this photo.

location’s door step. The GPS worn by “Swifty” works the same way ours do. His collar receives a signal from a satellite, then a computer communicates with each GPS collar to retrieve movement data that is stored in the collar’s memory. It is interesting to see graphs showing “Swifty’s” movements, but what was learned did not surprise me. It was pretty boring because he basically bopped around a core home range of under one square mile. And this is where the deer spends most of his time throughout the year.

At our house we feel certain we are seeing the same deer day after day, our headlights catching them eating grass in our yard at night. They eat more than grass, much more. I’m sure it’s the same deer we seeing eating apples under the

He may be hard to see among the plants, but when he leaves, damage is clearly visible.

He may be hard to see among the plants, but when he leaves, damage is clearly visible.

neighbor’s tree, and the hoof prints in my flower beds attest to them savoring a varied diet. This year they especially were fond of my roses. (If I were a deer that’s probably what I would choose, too.) There are very few plants they don’t like. My Hosta plants are constantly being pruned to the ground. Chrysanthemums remain untouched. Some think the deer may be coming nocturnal, only coming out at night, but here we see them both day and night. Rather the studies will prove this to be true is yet to be seen. I must say I have found a spray that will discourage the deer from feeding in my garden. It’s called Liquid Fence, but you do have to remember to use it every few days. It’s scent would turn anyone away from a garden that should smell good.

I must confess I do get disgusted with the deer and can’t help but be concerned about the ticks they carry. But every year when hunting season arrives, I know with certainty that many of our white-tailed friends will be harvested, that is unless they are smart like “Swifty” was. His study shows deer that survive the rifle season have a special hiding place. Usually on the top of a ridge where the prevailing wind from the west will let them know when danger approaches and where they can quickly jump off the side of the ridge and escape. “Swifty” was followed through two hunting seasons.

Except for his moseying round the same, small area, his movements became nonstop during the rut (breeding season). This lasts during October and November.

It’s interesting to watch the graphs designating his movements back and forth over his core home range. But, one day “Swifty” did the unpredictable, once in June he visited

This graph shows the deer's movements, mainly in a small area.

This graph shows the deer’s movements, mainly in a small area.

the far northern ridge outside of his home range, then never visited it again. However, there was another long range move. During a 12 hour period he traveled over 5 miles and over a mile in elevation. In the two years “Swifty’s” movements were monitored, he returned to this far away spot. After that, his movements were no longer detected. No one knows why, but he had picked this spot to die.

I know my husband will say, “what a terrible way to end your blog.” And I am sorry, but two to three years is the average deer’s life span. If some consolation, if he happened to be one of those deer that settled in my yard, he had a lovely place to live and a very, varied diet.

You haven’t heard from me in some time and I’ve missed hearing from you. So please write with your comments.

8 thoughts on “Journey Behind A White-Tail!

  1. Hi Shirley, Placing GPS tracking devices on wildlife gives scientists much information on the animal’s behavior. I didn’t know that they were studying and tagging deer in PA and using GPS to learn more about them. This past year, I helped out with banding and placing a tracking device on a juvenile bald eagle. We also worked with shorebirds, including endangered red knots, ruddy turn stones and even a few gulls were banded. Banding the red knots has helped scientists to locate the wintering grounds of these remarkable birds. If you read the book “Moon Bird”, you will learn about the migration patterns of the red knot. We have lots of deer in our neighborhood, and they come right into our backyard to feed. Protecting and preserving, wildlife, nature and the environment should be everyone’s concern. God’s creation is beautiful and it needs to be respected and loved!


    • Hi Colleen: I have been following your adventures of tracking birds and am sure you’ve learned so much about our feathered friends. Is there no end to learning more about God’s creation? I think not. Loved hearing from you.


  2. Very appropriate. This morning Nita and I stood watching out our bedroom window as the sun was rising and saw 4 white tail bucks. We didn’t see any GPS collars around their neck. I have often wondered about the area they travel as we see some of the same ones from year to year. Our deer love to dine on apples in our orchard. I enjoyed your informational post.


  3. Interesting! I had no idea they were tracking deer this way. I thought maybe they lived longer than that. But I’m sure it is a hard life out in the wild. Interesting that he chose a special place for his end. Animals are pretty complicated!


    • You are not the only that suspected the white tail deer lived longer than one or two years. And you are right. They could live up to 20 years if they stay healthy and avoid the hunters. Good to hear from you, Janine.


  4. Sooooooo glad to see you back. I had no idea that deer had such a short life. Although I know some can live quite long because I’ve seen the same deer for many years in my area and watched as his rack got bigger and he would torment the hunters. Also…I heard that deer lived in a one mile area…you study shows they have more like a five mile area and isn’t that interesting how the deer picked out his spot to die.


  5. Interesting study. We have deer that visit us, too, and it seems like the ones that are born in the woods around our house have stayed around. I imagine the tracking information is useful to monitor population growth and to track diseases now being found in certain deer populations.


    • Hi Peg: What a nice surprise, hearing from you. You undoubtedly are right about also tracking disease and population. Since we both live in a very, lovely part of the country, I’d say deer population is high here. Wouldn’t you? 🙂 Thanks for writing.


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