Five Things Hunters Think They Know About Whitetail Bucks

Posted on February 18, 2014


 But Are They True?



One of the most intriguing aspects of the white-tailed deer is its ability to constantly contradict long-held beliefs regarding its behavior. What once was held as legitimate dogma is systematically erased with new evidence, refuting each former claim. As more and more hunters become students of the animal, more stories are passed  around the campfire as fact. The articles that were once hyped as the gospel according to “old so-and-so” are now dismissed as mere inaccurate suppositions.

I do not believe these well-intentioned folks were purposefully trying to mislead us, they just did not have the same resources that today’s deer hunter is privy to. Due to the lack of modern conveniences their free time was minimal. Watching, photographing, documenting and reading others findings on America’s most sought after big game animal was a luxury not afforded those that planted the truisms that have maintained a foothold within the deer hunting culture. After all, with the advent of the internet, videos, specialized magazines and hunting TV, an individual can absorb or disseminate a lot of whitetail insight in a short amount of time, all without ever leaving the comfort of the stuffed recliner.

Yet, despite the mountain of sound biological information currently available, scraps of these former opinions still linger in the minds of many deer hunters. And hence, therein lies some of the contradictions. Here are but five of the many misconceptions that still permeate deer hunting circles.


A buck will live his entire life within a square mile plot of ground.


Walking a mile in a straight line doesn’t seem very far now does it? But when you square that mile it ultimately turns into 640 acres, more than enough room for a buck to roam at will without ever having to leave its borders. Add to that square mile nutritious desirable food, water and security and you would be left to wonder, “Why would any reasonably behaving buck ever leave, or want to vacate this veritable Garden of Eden?” Here is where the thought process begins to go awry. As humans, we have a tendency to equate what we see in nature with human traits. We fail to consider that even though we might have all that we need and want at our fingertips, on our own plot of ground we call home, we still travel, some more than others and for various reasons. A whitetail buck, despite having under his nose all that he needs for survival will travel well outside what is considered his home range. He may call this his home, but as we have all disappointedly discovered on many a hunting outing, the house is vacant of its owner.


I’ve personally tracked scores of bucks great distances, mile upon mile and well away from their traditional stomping ground. I’ve actually killed bucks as much as six miles from what I knew to be their bedding area. The fact that bucks roam far and wide has recently been formally documented by a study done on the King Ranch in Texas.

Bucks are invincible

 Rut 4

Although we like to imagine that the biggest, most active stud of a buck is indomitable, that is not the case. Beyond a hunter’s bullet or arrow, a buck is especially vulnerable to other maladies. Because they are so active leading up to and continuing through the annual rut, a buck faces many perils not realized by his female counterparts. He runs the risk of being badly injured by the tines of the bucks he fights with. Although these injuries may not be initially life threatening, if an infection sets in, the animal becomes walking death. During winter, particularly if it happens to be severe, the first deer to perish will be those bucks that were the most aggressive during the rut.

The most dominant bucks are always the oldest.


The whitetails pecking order has little to do with age and everything to do with attitude. The old cliché that states, “It’s not how much dog is in the fight, it’s how much fight is in the dog,” certainly pertains to the buck hierarchy. I’ve observed it time and time again where a smaller, younger buck that had a whole lot of attitude thwarts the largest buck with the bigger set of antlers. It also needs to be understood that not all bucks, regardless of their size or age, are fighters. Hence, they will willingly relinquish what might rightfully be theirs to a more aggressive buck. The unique aspect of this pecking order is that it is always in a state of flux. One day the biggest buck is dominant, and then gets into a skirmish with a buck down the line, gets injured and the scenario changes; sometimes for days, sometimes forever.


A buck bears the responsibility for the entire herd.


While this may be true with other species of animals, and sounds good when reading Bambi, it could not be further from the truth. The behavior of every mature buck that I have ever encountered has reflected quite the contrary. A buck is the most narcissistic, self-absorbed creature in the woods. His entire being revolves around his wants, needs and desires. He will place any other deer, be it doe, yearling, or another buck between himself and danger in order to preserve his own hide. The older he gets, the more sedentary he becomes, spending a large amount of time bedded in the security of his hideaway. The matriarchal doe, not the buck, actually bears the responsibility for and meets the needs of her family unit, which takes us to our final point.

Mature bucks are the smartest deer.


Even though it would stand to reason that with age comes wisdom, that is not always the case. Age certainly provides many experiences, but without learning from those occurrences they are bound to be repeated. I don’t know about you, but I know a few older folks that despite their many experiences in life seem to routinely fall into the same traps that have befallen them so many times before. After all, is it not true that repeating the same process over and over again with same results, all the while expecting a different outcome each time is insanity?

 smart deer

A buck can only learn from two sources: what he experiences and what his mother taught him while under her care. Just because a buck manages to escape peril for countless years doesn’t necessarily mean he is smarter. Fortunate, yes. Smarter? Well, that would be conjecture. It is based entirely on exactly what he has experienced. One thing is for certain, bucks can and do remember these lessons!

With few exceptions, the smartest, most wary whitetail in any herd would undoubtedly be the matriarchal doe. She is much more vulnerable, visible and bears the burden of raising fawns annually. Like all good mothers, she unselfishly concerns herself with much more than her own well-being.



Letting go of long-held beliefs is never easy, and it seems that some whitetail lore has become so entrenched that it hangs around far longer than its usefulness or practicality. Being a student of nature’s creatures not only teaches us, but the more you immerse yourself in its study, the more enlightened your world becomes. As ancient Job stated centuries ago in chapter 12 of his book, “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you…”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer