Buck Fight

Posted on August 8, 2017

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The Five Most Dramatic Minutes of my Career

 

 

For each of us there are moments in our life, snap shots in time, that can never be forgotten; events that far exceed anything we could have imagined that leave a lasting impression. Every one of us has experienced a few of those special occurrences, and when they happen, we’re completely taken by what may prove to be an event we can never recapture.

As a hunter, deer behaviorist and nature photographer, I have had more than my share of rare experiences with the white-tailed deer, some so extraordinary that few have ever witnessed them, let alone been able to photograph. I’ve had the privilege to capture on film just about every whitetail behavior that is common to this animal from breeding to birthing, lip-curling to snort-wheezing, scraping, rubbing, sleeping, leaping and yes, even fighting. But never in my career have I ever witnessed a battle that involved more than two bucks, nor the intensity that these animals demonstrated on one special October morning. It was indeed the most intense, dramatic and exciting five minutes that I have ever witnessed and photographed. Before I share the blow-by-blow (no pun intended) details of this unusual event, let’s take a look at what actually precipitates a bonafide buck fight and what typically transpires during such bouts.

 

Typical Buck Aggression

The first point to establish is that bucks living within the same general core area seldom will fight. Because of their association with each other throughout most of the year, dominance has already been established. During the autumn, a buck’s home range becomes extensive and will frequently overlap those of other mature bucks. Generally, when a knock down, drag out fight occurs, it will be due to another buck’s territory having been infringed upon rather than the right to service a doe in waiting. These battles characteristically happen at the onset of breeding season, but that is not to say they can’t or won’t take place at the height of breeding activity.

 

 

When two rivals meet, the first sign of aggression is the body language they display. The bucks rear legs are brought forward, his head and neck are elevated, and the head is held slightly lower than the level of the animal’s back. The ears are laid back flat against the neck and all of the buck’s hair stands on end giving the illusion that his size is larger than what it actually is. The eyes rotate to the front of the socket so that the whites are clearly visible. The bucks lick their noses frequently. Their movements at this point are almost robotic as they stiff-leggedly sidle in circles to each other. While circling, the combatants will tuck their chins, lower their antlers and tilt them forward. At this point, one or both males may or may not emit snorts or grunts just prior to striking.

Without warning, one of the bucks finally lunges, and instantly the other explodes as their antlers impact with a loud crack. Depending on how forceful this initial impact is antler tines can easily be broken upon first contact. Once the antlers are enmeshed, it now becomes a shoving match in an effort to force each other backward or down. If one of the two loses his footing and falls, the other buck will indeed make every attempt to gore him. Although these battles are infrequent, when they do transpire it appears that it is winner take all. Each buck is attempting to kill or severely wound his opponent.

 

The Most Exciting Five Minutes

 

October 15th was not unlike any other morning as I set about to capture whitetails on film. The temperature was in the mid-30s with a slight breeze as I set up in hopes of catching a buck feeding on some apples. Not long after my arrival I was greeted by not one, but two mature bucks, a ten and a six-pointer respectively.

After taking several shots of these two, they showed no inclination as to what was about to transpire. The lead buck was standing just in front of the heavier of the two when suddenly, without provocation, he laid his ears back, lowered his head and lunged at the buck behind him. The two begin to spar with the click-clack of the antlers, but what initially began as banter quickly turned into a serious fight.

 

 

While lifting my head from behind camera, I noticed another buck that had materialized fifty-yards uphill from the action, and was intently watching the fray. Not content to be just an innocent bystander, this nine-pointer raced down, circled the two combatants and began pawing out a scrape and grunting. When the two fighting bucks presented a broadside view to the third buck, he instantly dove into the mix. Now there were three bucks locked up in the duel.

 

 

Then the action really ramped up. Sticks, leaves and dirt were flying everywhere. The third buck momentarily lost his footing and was vaulted to the ground. This did not deter the other two bucks who continued to battle, dragging the third buck as they did. After about 30 seconds, the downed buck regained his feet as the battle continued. As the trio paused momentarily to catch their breath, the last buck in disengaged, echoed a shrill blow and took off just behind two does that had been watching the entire show. At the sound of the snort, the two original combatants separated, with the ten-pointer walking slightly uphill.

Within seconds, the uphill buck turned, laid his ears back again, and reminiscent of a big horn ram, came charging down the incline and slammed his antlers with a loud crack into the waiting six-pointers rack. This now became even more intense than the last scuffle.

 

 

The two bucks, with all of their strength, shoved, thrashed, and pushed back and forth in a tug-of-war. The smaller of the two bucks went down on his left side, yet, continued to fight. Regaining his feet, both heads went to the ground with antlers digging into the soil as they continued to try and kill each other. This was as dramatic a fight as I had ever witnessed and I really thought one of these bucks was going to die. The click-clacking and antler grinding was loud, as were the grunts being emitted by both bucks. Finally, with much energy having been spent, a full five minutes following the start of this battle, the ten-point instigator finally disengaged and fled. The last buck standing momentarily stood with his mouth open gasping for breath, and then took off after the fleeing buck grunting with every third step.

 

 

Silence once again reigned in the multi-colored autumn woods with the only evidence of what had just occurred being the torn-up leaf litter, and fortunately for me, what I was blessed to have witnessed and captured on film.

 

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier
© 2017 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer