While some people are quick to dismiss the idea of deer migration, believing these creatures to be strictly homebodies, research suggests there’s more to the story primarily with mule deer.

Whitetail deer that are commonly pursued by hunters in the Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern states are known for their tendency to stay put rather than migrate. They’re quite the homebodies, often spending their entire lives within a compact home range of about a mile or so. But in certain Western states, there are herds of mule deer (and to some extent whitetail deer too) that engage in migration.

Mule Deer 255´s Migration Animation

I came across this fascinating piece about “Deer 255” and her migration journey. The University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab’s cartography team has put together some impressive 3D visualizations. They really bring to life the hurdles Deer 255 encounters during her migration, and they highlight the efforts made by people to protect the Red Desert to Hoback migration corridor.

Read and watch more about big game migration: https://migrationinitiative.org/resources/videos-photos/

Seasonal Changes and Food Availability

Researchers in Montana have found that during the winter, whitetails from the western mountain regions migrate toward denser forests. These whitetail herds cover distances ranging from 8 to 15 miles.

They search for dense overhead tree cover to shield themselves from the snow and rely on the insulating properties of Douglas fir and other evergreens. This deer migration is primarily influenced by seasonal changes and food availability. In colder months, food sources become scarce, pushing them to venture further for survival.

As winter snow recedes, the deer return to their summer ranges, often along waterways, providing an escape route from predators.

Wrapping up.

The question of deer migration isn’t as simple as a yes or no. While the common belief holds that whitetails, especially those in the Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern states, are non-migratory and prefer to stick close to home, evidence points to a broader spectrum of behavior. These deer typically live within a mile radius their entire lives, embodying the definition of homebodies. However, the narrative shifts when looking at mule deer—and to a lesser extent, whitetails—in certain Western states, revealing patterns of migration driven by survival instincts.

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