Deer move in mysterious ways, some wandering more widely than hunters believe, while dominant stags may inhabit a more limited area than expected, according to findings by the University of Queensland’s Deer Research Project.
Researchers tracked a stag, named Big Red, that spent two days travelling between his two ranges, which were almost 8km apart, but his movements were not as widespread as they had anticipated.
The project tracked the movements of 24 stags and hinds, and some three lots of results were posted last week on the DRP website, revealing the habits of Big Red, a hind and a young stag.
Matthew Amos, a PhD student on the DRP, said the team was very happy with the results they’ve got so far, but said the main data-crunching was still ahead of them.
He said two more tracking collars were due to automatically release from their deer this week, and they’d now recovered 18 of the 24 collars.
Once the movements of all deer are assessed, they’ll be put into context with environmental conditions such as weather, moon phases and prevailing winds measured during the research period to discover more about the habits of deer in Australia.
“Seeing the dots on the maps is just the tip of the iceberg,” Matthew said. “There’s so much more we can get out of it.”
There’d been no huge surprises in the data so far, although Matthew said some of the hunters on the project had been taken back by some of what the collars have revealed.
One of the hunters said the collar retrieved from a particular young stag wouldn’t reveal anything interesting because they’d always found the deer in the same place, every time they’d looked for him.
“When we got the data up on the screen we saw that he’d done a surprising amount of moving around in the rut because he was a young stag,” Matthew said. “We just didn’t know.”
The movements of Big Red contrasted markedly with those of another younger stag, called Dusty, who rarely crossed into the mature stag’s territories and travelled extensively through a range extending more than 20km.
However, as the young deer grew, he apparently became bolder. Researchers monitored him through two ruts, and while he avoided entering Big Red’s mating territory the first time, he encroached on it briefly during the second rut.
Dusty’s movements were the most complex of the three animals studied.
“The young stags get pushed around a bit so they spend a fair bit of time travelling and trying to find their niche, whereas the old stags seem to have an even smaller area than I’d have imagined, because they can hold it,” Matthew said. “They don’t need to move around, just push everything else out and keep their little area.”
The hind, named Maud, spent her time in a home range of about 700 hectares that bordered on Big Red’s rutting patch, but she left it for seven weeks to calve in a 19ha region of thick bush about 1km outside her normal range.
Matthew said that giving birth outside the usual range was unusual.
“It’s not as common as sticking in the middle of their home range area,” he said.
Maud left the calving area just once, overnight, to go to an open grassy area less than 1km away. Matthew says they have no firm idea about why she made this brief journey.
Maps show the calving area was a relatively sheltered gully system that was quite different from the hind’s more open home range.
Her tracking collar was found in a wallow after it automatically released at the end of July.
The study was carried out around Cressbrook Dam in southern Queensland.
The DRP aims to study the cultural and economic value of wild deer in Australia, assess their environmental impacts, and increase our understanding of the animals in Australia.
The UQ project is supported by the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, the Australian Deer Association, Safari Club International, the NSW Game Council, Queensland government and Toowoomba Regional Council.