Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on February 26, 2013




Editor’s note:  Anyone wishing to send a question for future Ask The Deer Tracker posts can e-mail it to,



Q. – Do you think there’s correspondence between early signs of the rut, specifically rubs and scrapes, as they correlate to mature bucks? That is, do studies and/or your experience indicate to you that mature bucks will start with this activity much earlier than younger bucks that eventually catch on and start rubbing and scraping themselves?

                                                                – G. R. – Boothbay, Maine


A. – Yes, I do believe there is a correspondence to an early rut relating to increased rubbing and scraping activity appearing earlier than normal, but I also believe that much of this premature buck activity, regardless of the rut’s timing is attributed to juvenile males.

There are many reasons why it plays out this way, with the most important being experience. The older a buck becomes and the more experience he acquires will help him realize the value of conserving energy until it really counts. It must be understood that deer cannot think and reason, but they indeed do remember. That, along with the fact that most of their behavioral responses are a direct result of external stimuli, will make older age bucks  indeed wait until the scent he has previously experienced is prevalent. On the other hand, inexperienced bucks behave like brash young men displaying advertising behavior (scrapes & rubs) as if being first and most visible will indeed attract a doe’s attention. That does not mean that mature bucks will not rub and scrape during the early stages, they will, just not at the frequency of their subordinates.


Another aspect to keep in mind is competition amongst and within a specific group of bucks. If there are other mature males residing in close proximity to each other, there will undoubtedly be a whole lot more attention given to advertising (rubs & scrapes). It just stands to reason that the more mature males competing for action within a deer herd, the greater the amount of business cards they will distribute. However, it has been my experience that even when competition is high, most early sign being distributed comes from those bucks with the least amount of experience.

Q. – I shot a buck this past season that had a noticeable limp as he walked and had several scars beneath the  hair on his neck and shoulder area. In your opinion, how often do bucks get injured from fighting with each other and does it become detrimental to their overall survival?

T. J. – Stowe, VT

 A. – A whitetail, especially a buck, lives a perilous existence. There are many unforeseen occurrences within its life that can place them on the edge of disaster. Fighting and sparring amongst the buck population is a normal function of their hierarchy. Some of these matches are nothing more than playful banter, while other clashes between gladiators become serious battles that incur major injury to one or both of the combatants.

It is amazing that any buck walks away from a skirmish unscathed with so many pointed daggers pointing and prodding at him. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness and film a number of buck fights and can attest that these guys mean business once they start battling. One slip or miscalculated move can mean the difference between meeting the others advance or receiving the lethal end of an antler tine in the rib cage.


I believe bucks are injured in some capacity from these clashes far more often than most folks realize. Some of these injuries are much more prolific than others, such as having an eye gouged out, gaping holes in the rib cage, abdomen or flanks and lesser wounds of bloody noses and broken antler tines. It seems the whitetail has a much greater threshold for pain than we humans. As long as a buck can reach a wound received with his tongue, it will ultimately heal.

Q. – I have read much about what brings on the rut and starts whitetails breeding. Because I hunt late into November and early December I was wondering what ultimately ends the rutting season? I’ve heard that it is decreasing daylight, low temperatures etc.. Could you give me your opinion on this event?

D. W. – Pittsfield, NH


A. – The absence of the ‘scent of a woman’. Although decreasing day length along with the second full moon after the autumn equinox starts the whole breeding process into motion, it is the ever-intoxicating scent being emitted from an estrus doe that escalates the buck into a state of frenzy. As long as that smell is permeating the air, bucks will continue to march to the beat of that drum, regardless of fatigue, an empty ponch, amount of miles required to travel between doe groups or challenges from rival bucks. No other aroma in the whitetail’s world has such an energizing effect.


With that said, once all traces of this powerful scent can no longer be found, the switch is turned off. It is really amazing to see how quickly the male loses his vim and vigor and reverts back to pre-rut behavior. His mind is now focused on replenishing lost meals and sleep. His swollen neck begins to rescind to its normal size.

This is why it becomes important to know when the fourteen-day breeding window, the time when 70-80 percent of the adult doe population will be bred, will transpire each autumn. It becomes providential for the bucks well-being that this is the way the process works, for I fear that if that ‘scent of a woman’ remained on the breeze for long durations these animals would literally run themselves right into the ground. It has that powerful of an effect.

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.