Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on December 27, 2011


December Column

Editor’s note: One week
each month we will run the, Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a
question for future posts can e-mail it to,

Q. – Recently I witnessed a pair of bucks take turns licking each other, particularly around the head and neck area. Is this normal behavior for bucks or could these two males have been possibly related?

K. J. – Warren, PA


A. – As far as these two bucks being siblings, it would be difficult to guess even if I had personally viewed them. In terms of their grooming behavior it is quite normal and happens much more frequently than people realize. Understand, whitetails have an established pecking order that is adhered to within their social structure. Even while the animals are still in velvet they realize and concede to their individual ranking within the herd. This is not to infer that the hierarchy never changes, especially as the dominant buck ages beyond his prime or specific bucks are eliminated due to mortality.

It has been my experience when viewing this behavior that two situations occur. In one, the subordinate buck will walk up to the more dominant male in a submissive posture and gingerly begin to lick his antlers, ears and head. As long as the higher-ranking buck shows no sign of objecting to this treatment, the grooming process will continue. In the other scenario, a more dominate buck approaches the subordinate male without deliberation. There seems to be no shyness about him and the subordinate buck will usually groom the dominant buck, returning the favor, at the same time.

The reason for this behavior is primarily to rid the other animal of insects, debris and any other unwanted material that they obviously cannot reach themselves in their daily grooming. I also believe there has to be a social value as well and or secretions produced around the head and neck of a buck that inclines them to engage in this activity. If not, there would be no real reason for the function during seasons void of insects.

Q. – Realizing there are a lot of variables involved, has there ever been a study on the average age a buck needs to reach to exceed the 200lb mark?

B. B. – Waterville, ME


A. – If there is a study, I’m unaware of it. However, like people whitetails come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The true size of a mature buck predicates on genetics and the groceries he puts into his body. How he maintains that body mass will have everything to do with the amount of stress he encounters both from winter severity and rigors of the rut.

Here inMaine, it usually takes a buck to reach the age of 3 ½ before he will field dress at or above the 200 pound benchmark. That being said, there have been some incredible 2 ½  year old bucks that occasionally reach that plateau. Generally, the heaviest bucks reside where the climate tends to be harshest; more body mass to endure long cold winters. But, travel to the mid-west in such states asIowa,Illinois,Missouriwhere winters aren’t nearly as cold or snow-filled and you will find some real bruisers. The reason for this is the fact that these deer are eating the best of the best, 24/7, 365-days a year. Not only do they grow huge bodies, but also are able to reach their full antler growth potential as well. That is seldom the case here inMaine.

Q. – What is the whitetails cue to head for their winter yards in the Northern climates?

M. K. – Northfield, VT


A. – The white-tailed deer has the incredible instinctual ability to know exactly when it is time to depart from their summer range or pilgrimage to the wintering ground. Each year that time can fluctuate depending on temperature and snow depths. There have even been instances where a winter was so mild that the deer never really migrated, opting instead to remain where food was still in abundance.

Traditionally whitetails will utilize the same winter yard they were first introduced to as yearlings unless it has been severely destroyed by cutting or natural causes. In this situation, they will congregate at the next best location or join another yarding area.

When snow depths reach 18 inches or more, deer will begin heading for the yard. There have been occurrences during some Novembers where snowstorms have dropped sufficient enough snow to begin this process. Occasionally, the deer get caught by an unprecedented amount of snow during a single storm that severely impedes their progress towards their wintering ground.

These yarding areas comprise approximately 20 percent of their normal range and are found in low-lying terrain comprised of a variety of softwood species. The conifers benefit the deer by reducing snow depth under the tree’s crown, reduce the effect of the bone chilling winds and provide sustenance to the animal through out the roughly 100 days the deer spend within its confines. These wintering grounds are usually located near a watershed or marsh, which in conjunction with the close-knit canopy, helps retain a higher temperature, especially during the night.

The other benefit a well-established yard provides to its resident whitetail population is a number of escape trails that help reduce predation from opportunistic coyotes and wolves.

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