Editors note, Guest blogger, Jim Collyer has written a most insightful book, Buck Naked – The Straight Dope On Trophy Whitetails. It has been a good long time since I’ve read and digested something of this magnitude. It is fresh, free of the tired old anecdotes, straight forward and accurate. I would highly recommend it to anyone wishing for consistent success on trophy bucks; it’s that good!
Hunting the Gamma Buck
There’s a lot of hoopla going around about hunting dominant bucks. The problem is hunters see the deer as a mirror image of themselves, which is generally far from reality. We forget deer herds are a matriarchal society and the Alpha doe is the leader and most dominant member of any herd, not the buck.
Social ranking among whitetail deer is not always based upon strength. Dominance is primarily determined by intimidation rather than brawn. Dominance is generally established well before the rut while the bucks are still in velvet. Body posturing and staring are ways bucks intimidate an opponent. If the dominant buck has the largest antlers in the herd it is merely a coincidence.
We’ve all seen dozens of articles written about hunting dominant bucks. We imagine the dominant or Alpha buck to have the largest antlers and to be superior both mentally and physically to all other members of the herd. This just isn’t true. The hunting industry produces at least a dozen dominant buck calls and dominant buck scent attractants. These are marketing strategies and have little to do with what’s going on in the woods.
All bucks are territorial. They mark these territories by rubbing trees, making ground scrapes, and pissing all over the place. However, big bucks don’t necessarily have the same territories. Rather their territory overlap, a buck might be an Alpha in part of his territory and a Beta in the rest.
What truly is a dominant buck and how does he fit into the general deer herd?
Male members of any deer herd can be divided into five types. They are: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omega.
The Alpha buck is dominant both psychologically and socially. He knows he is the biggest “badest” deer in the herd. He is confident and controls the other bucks through intimidation. Rarely does he engage in a physical fight with other members of the herd.
The Beta is psychologically dominant, but socially submissive. They are waiting for their chance to become the Alpha. They will shows signs of submissiveness towards the Alpha, but not to other bucks. Between 70% and 80% of the bucks in any herd will be Betas. When fights do occur between bucks they are both generally Betas.
The Gamma buck is also psychologically dominant, but socially he is reclusive. These are the loners. They avoid conflicts with other bucks except during in the rut. Gamma bucks, while only about 5% of the bucks in any herd, will make up better than 50% of the trophy bucks in heavily hunted areas. They are recluses. They stick to dense cover and are seldom seen during daylight hours. These are the survivors and because of that, they tend to live longer. Gammas usually have better trophy qualities than either Alphas or Betas.
The Delta buck is submissive both socially and psychologically. Here’s the six or eight point buck who hangs around the doe group year-round. He is not only intimidated by other bucks, but by the does as well.
Lastly we have the Omega buck. He is psychologically submissive and socially a reject. He tries to seek acceptance anywhere he can. These are the bucks we see in videos walking into people’s kitchens and eating cookies from people’s hands. They will do anything to be accepted.
Both Delta and Omega bucks seldom live over two years in open range. They have the suicidal habit of standing in open fields during hunting season. Alpha bucks have short life spans as well. Not only are they the targets of other bucks, but because of their high visibility they are also a prime target of hunters.
Most hunters automatically assume every oversized buck is a “Super Alpha”, when in fact he is more than likely a Gamma buck.
A Gamma buck’s territory differs considerably from that of either Alpha’s or Beta’s. First off, their territory is considerably larger, often overlapping the territories of two or more Alpha males. The Gamma’s ground scrapes and tree rubs appear to be mere tokens efforts and haphazard at best. Gamma bucks seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear just as fast. During the rut they can be in one place one day and 5 miles away the next. Their home territory is seldom the same from one year to the next.
Prior to the rut, a Gamma buck will back away from aggressive behavior displayed by another buck. A Gamma does not attempt to establish dominance over other bucks, at least not until the rut begins. If there’s a hot doe involved, a Gamma being psychologically dominant well meet aggression with aggression.
Are there special tactics we should consider when hunting the gamma buck?
Tree stands and blinds overlooking food plots are one way to harvest Alphas and Betas, but never hunt a Gamma buck on the edge of field. You’ll probably never see him. You’d be better off setting up 100 to 200 yards in the timber.
Sitting all day watching a funnel is a great way to hunt gamma bucks. Grunt calls and bleating are effective on Gamma bucks, but antler rattling usually sends them running.
Several years ago, my father and I were hunting a heavily timbered bench. We had seen a big Alpha buck pushing does in this area on several occasions but hadn’t been able to get a shot at him. Early in the hunt we found him breeding a hot doe. Once the buck had finished giving the doe the best 3 seconds of her life, my father let the air out him. The doe scampered up the hillside and stop some hundred yards from us. It was then I noticed another large deer, much larger than the Alpha. It was the Gamma. I let him have it as he passed through a small clearing.
Remember, Gamma bucks are reclusive and patient. Even during the rut they though often bide their time and do their breeding at night. One thing I’ve learned: if you harvest a buck on a hot doe and still have a tag, get right back on her. There is about a 50% chance a bigger (Gamma) buck will be on her shortly.
How successful could we be, more consistently if we focused our efforts on harvesting Gamma deer instead of Alpha deer?
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