Life from A Buck’s Perspective

Posted on September 5, 2017



The ghost is the whitetail buck. See him before he sees you.
Catch him if you can. Be prepared, for if you are not, this ghost will vanish…
Right before your very eyes. – H L Daley


Initially, the flakes floated about in a sea of darkness, whimsically landing on a dormant countryside. As eventide marched into the early morning hours, the snow eerily fell with greater intensity quietly ushering in its presence unannounced. In the afterglow of camp’s waning fire, the huntsmen clan lay sleepily dreaming of larger-than-life, broad-beamed bucks, unaware that the naked landscape was being transformed, adorned in a vesture of fine virgin white.

The very buck that is to be sought knows full well of the meteorological intrusion to his life. Within the very forest these hunters will enter come morning, the whitetail buck lives out his day-to-day existence. The animal knows nothing of dates, time, schedules, or our impending intent to rob him of his ivory tip crown. Unlike humans, his daily habits, guarded movements and instinctive reactions to the environment he encounters govern his life.



We, in preparation for the hunt, busily go about readying ourselves by ensuring our equipment is in tip-top shape, our weapon is dead-on, and our hunting location is selected with confidence. But, let me ask you this: how much forethought and scrutiny has been invested into learning about the animal we mentally envision gracing our wall? Judge John Dean Canton realized the importance of this when he wrote, “The sportsman studies and observes all of the characteristics of the deer, not alone because they interest him and furnish him with food for thought while on the hunt and for discussion by the campfire, but because he is aware that he must know all the resources of the game in order to hunt it successfully.”

Today, the beneficial unsullied snow will simplify the task of deciphering the details of the buck’s chronology. His movements, seen in the wake of the tracks he has left, unfold before our eyes, and allow us, the pursuers, the opportunity to scrutinize the animals choices. This line of thinking should not be construed as anthropomorphism (placing human characteristics onto an animal) but rather, understanding from a human perspective the idiosyncratic actions that have made the whitetail such an elusive creature. We must remember, a buck, by his very nature, is much like a vapor, which appears for a little time and then vanishes. Archibald Rutledge expressed this trait vividly: “No other creature so large lives so silently, so secretively and so self-effacingly.”



Unbeknown to us, the buck has risen from his bed in the pre-dawn darkness and has shaken the accumulated snow from his husky frame. After stretching, he spreads his legs to relieve himself at the edge of the oval shaped resting spot. With the flick of an ear and swish of the tail, the buck strolls towards a clump of immature beech saplings whose brown, lifeless leaves cling mercifully. After carefully scrutinizing his surroundings, and for no reason beyond boredom, the stag initiates an assault with his antlers on the defenseless shrubbery.



With that urge now satisfied, the buck begins to depart leaving not only the security of his confines, but with each deliberate step he takes, visible slots are left indicating his every move. The timing of his departure, directly following a storm and in the early morning’s first rays of light, is consistent behavior with many of the animal’s brethren. This adapted pattern has been passed down from a long line of descendants. (May I interject, much akin to humans, each animal possesses a unique personality all its own and when dealing with grandmaster bucks, they pretty much do as they darn well please.) What started out as an aimless walk, has now taken on greater urgency. The mighty beast now powers himself straight down from his mountainous vantage, purposefully plodding along past a series of previously made rubs – inconspicuous signs of a regular travel route.

His pace suddenly slows to stop-and-go safeguarded movements as he ambles parallel to a human roadway just inside the cover. Approaching a bend in the road, the animal stops, visually checks both directions, cups his ears for any unusual sound, and then proceeds to cross the unmarked thoroughfare.



This is the juncture where we (the hunter) first encounter the visible reality of the buck’s whereabouts. Make no mistake about it; this creature knows full well that danger predominantly comes from these man-made travel routes. Not only from man himself, but coyotes, which regularly utilize them as well. Once safely across and swallowed up within the dense vegetation, the buck pauses for several minutes viewing his back trail; ever conscious of the trail he is leaving.

“Animals (bucks) are smart in their own environment – maybe smarter than some humans in theirs.” – Iain Allen, African Sarari guide



Assured that all is as it should be, the stag resumes his walk-about through a veritable maze of tight knit, white bearded hemlocks. Suddenly, like a spaniel on point, he abruptly freezes in place. A scent has permeated his olfactory senses, an aroma that prompts an instant reaction. Immediately, he lights out in the exact direction of the odor, a scent facilitated by the fickle currents of the wind.



As he hits the dainty slots of the female doe, his nose, one resembling a well-trained bloodhound, in fact better, is pushed right down into these tracks. He is then drawn along this trail as if some magnetic force greater than himself is tugging at him. The imprints lead him to a secluded forest opening and a whole host of other assorted deer tracks.



An inward mood change starts to become readily visible. The hair on his back bristles, the muscles engorge filling his swelled neck with endorphins of anger. Another buck has trod on the sanctity of this buck’s turf. Oh, it’s no stranger, this rival buck is well known within the pecking order. In a fit of rage, the once docile buck initiates an attack on shrubs, trees, and voids the area’s ground of all snow and leaf litter. In the buck’s wake is left an indelible scene of destruction and dominance for the entire deer community to observe.

Physically, psychologically, and sexually, the animal is charged. All rationale has been placed on hold as he searches out the prospective female. The warrior finally comes into visual contact with the family unit of does and instantly begins chasing first one, then another until he comes to the realization that they want nothing to do with his advances, at least not yet.



With an understandably subdued demeanor, the buck stands for a long period of time, processing why his attempts to breed are met with resistance. Incapable of fully understanding the process, he sets out in a straight line to locate another group of females residing two miles away.



And such is the day in the life of a whitetail buck. Understanding the animal’s behavior and why he behaves in the fashion that he does during the course of his existence, especially during hunting season, can greatly assist us, the hunter, by helping us place ourselves in a shooting position somewhere along his well marked path.

Remember, we act, the buck reacts.



“Isn’t it wonderful how animals so often do what they want, not what they should.” David Petersen


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer