Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on February 4, 2014



February Column


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Q. – I shot a buck this past season that had a noticeable limp as he walked and had several scars beneath his 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. – Whitetails, especially bucks, live a perilous existence. There are many unforeseen occurrences within their lives that place them on the edge of disaster. Fighting and sparring amongst the buck population is a normal function to determine hierarchy. Some of these matches are nothing more than playful banter, while other clashes between gladiators incurs serious injuries to one or both of the combatants.


It is amazing that any buck walks away from a skirmish unscathed after his opponent has prodded him with pointed daggers. 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 on one of their parts can be 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 common than others, such as having an eye gouged out, wounds to the rib cage, abdomen and flanks, or 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 any wound received with his tongue, it will ultimately heal.

Q. – I hunted the big woods of Northern Maine for the first time this year and found it to be quite formidable. How do you find where the deer are located, especially when there is no snow to see tracks in?

D. B. – Lancaster, PA


A. – In Northern Maine as well as any other primordial forests deer will be found in pockets rather than being evenly distributed. They are quite mobile and their patterns change regularly. Food has more to do with where they currently reside than any other single component. What is on the menu this week may not be what they are feasting on as the season progresses.


I look for three specific ingredients when deciding where to look for deer, in this order: water, food and cover. Once I find an area that offers all three of these elements I go in and look for sign that deer are residing there. If I don’t locate any substantial evidence that deer are using that particular block of ground I push on. You have to hunt the sign before you can hunt the deer that made it.

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 daylight 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, the bucks will continue to march to the beat of that drum. Regardless of fatigue, an empty paunch, amount of miles  to travel between doe groups or challenges from rival bucks, no other stimulus in the whitetail’s world has such an energizing effect.

With that said, once all traces of this intoxicating 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 his pre-rut behaviors. 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-to-80 percent of the adult doe population will be bred – will transpire each autumn. It is 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 an effect.

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