Its True, White-Tailed Deer Disappear After Opening Day

If you hunt, chances are you have experienced the phenomenon of the opening day scramble.

If you hunt, chances are you have experienced the phenomenon of the opening day scramble. The story goes something like this: You put in days of research and scouting and discover a honey hole full of trophy animals. Come opening day, you aren’t the only one out there and after the morning shots ring out, you can’t find a single animal. The deer simply disappear and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.

This commonly observed phenomenon is now being studied in Oklahoma where the researchers wanted to know: What effect are hunters actually influencing deer behavior? The project comes to us from southern Oklahoma where a group of researchers were given access to a private 1000+ acre ranch to study deer movements prior to-and during the rifle hunting season.

Check out the awesome study here.


The researchers observed hunting pressures throughout the ranch for a year in order to establish three zones of activity-high, medium, and low risk zones. Following the hunting season, the team GPS-collared 37 white-tailed bucks more than two years old. Using GPS mapping technology, they could now see where the bucks were at any given time of day and how they used the landscapes before, during, and after the hunting season. The team also required every hunter to carry a Garmin GPS with them while hunting and record any buck observations, which were then confirmed using the GPS collar data.


The researchers found that following opening day of rifle season, the deer changed their movements. Most notably, the peak hours of activity flipped temporally, from day time to night time highs. Many of the animals also spent less time in heavily hunted areas following opening day. The effects of hunter presence on behavioral change was almost immediate, probably lending to this area being traditionally hunted for years.


This study may have been too focused and could have missed other important factors which led to deer site suitability. Deer are influenced by a variety of other factors when choosing home ranges or even establishing movement patters, not the least of which is forage quality and variety, and water source availability. This area of Oklahoma is very dry and seasonal changes in rainfall can substantially alter deer habitat and plant forage. These things were not considered in the study as possible influencers.

We also observed that the control period was only one hunting season long. To strengthen the conclusion, multiple control years followed by multiple treatment years would have been ideal. This does not seem to difficult as most GPS-collar studies carry on for multiple years to account for seasonal fluctuations and unusual animal movements.

Overall, this is a good study which confirms what many hunters already know to be true: Once those first shots ring out, the deer dramatically alter their movement patterns. The study is a good foundation to study affects of hunters on other populations of animals during hunting seasons.



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