Buttons To A Crown

Posted on September 10, 2019


What it Takes for a Buck Fawn to Reach Maturity



It is always a triumphant moment when, at the culmination of the hunt the fortunate hunter wraps his fingers around a fine set of antlers in proud, satisfying jubilation. Seldom, if ever does one pause to contemplate exactly what it took for this noble beast to have reached the maturation level necessary to be dubbed a worthy target. There are many obstacles in the life of a whitetail that must be hurdled in order for him to see his fourth birthday and beyond. Because of the secretive nature of the animal, few have any real idea of what some of these relevant struggles are.

The Early Days

Even as the fawn is dropped from its mother’s womb, there is no guarantee that all will go according to design. The mother quickly turns her immediate attention on clearing the embryonic fluid away from the fawn’s nasal passage and prompts the spotted infant to inhale its first of what are hopefully many breaths. Following a complete tongue washing and its first belly full of the doe’s rich, immunizing milk, the fawn faces its initial encounter in the school of survival. The world that he has entered is fraught with dangers that can present themselves in a moment’s notice.



During the fawn’s cryptic stage, he must remain motionless, only rising when summoned by his mother. And even then, if hidden in the wrong location, a combine cutting the tall grass of a field can innocently snuff out its young life. Because deer are prey animals, predators such as coyotes, wolfs, bears and even large birds of prey all have an appetite for a defenseless woodland babe. It takes a fawn approximately two or three weeks before it has the stamina and speed to outdistance anything that may want to eat it.



And then there are the common accidents that unfortunately occur to many of spring’s deer herd recruits, such as being tangled in fences, drowned, abandoned by ill equipped mothers, diseases, car collisions and a whole host of other calamities. In fact, forty percent of each year’s crop of fawns is routinely lost before they reach six months of age.




A buck entering his second fall as a 1-½ year-old now faces what could be the most pivotal time in his life. Other than when he was an infant, this period will prove to be his most vulnerable. In reality, a buck of this age class would be considered the equivalent of a twelve-year-old boy. He has all the tools attributed to an adult buck but doesn’t yet have a clue how he is supposed to use them. He is suddenly cast out by the mother who bore him and will eventually be forced to leave the matriarchs home turf. The older bucks show little sympathy toward his plight and aggressively chase him from their presence. He has involuntarily become a nomad attempting to find his way in what has become a hostile environment. With little experience to date, he often finds himself making mistakes, and these miscues far too often prove fatal. The highest percentage of bucks killed each year in most states is comprised of 1-½ year-old males. He could well be depicted as the dumbest deer within the herd.




If a buck reaches his second birthday his chance of seeing adulthood rises significantly. By now he has established a place of refuge that becomes his new home. Several behavioral changes serve to help him in his ongoing quest to remain a viable living entity. However, he is not out of the metaphorical woods just yet. Now that he is sporting his first real set of branched antlers and begins to feel his ‘oats’, he will clash with other males much larger than he as they seek to establish dominance. Most of these battles will end without incident, but occasionally an over-zealous young buck could receive a fatal blow from the business end of an opponent’s sharp tines. Due to his eagerness to be a participant in the breeding ritual, he can and will march into a situation that places his rib cage in a hunter’s site or a passing vehicle’s front grill. Testosterone rules his actions and temporarily absolves the mind of rationale thinking.

Whizzing Bullets and Slung Arrows

In order for a buck to evade the fate of the meat pole he has to be right every time. No miscalculations, no appeal to an innate nature of curiosity, and no relaxation to the security provisions that have been relied upon to sustain his hide to date. The longer a buck lives the more difficult it becomes to kill him. His experiences and especially his brushes with death will only serve to educate him and help him avoid those situations again. Although a buck cannot think and reason like humans, he can and does remember his experiences.



Some may call it luck on the animal’s part when he eludes our fired bullets or jumps the string on a released arrow. It seems that this rationale helps sooth the deflated ego of the would-be marksman. Poor shooting aside, I prefer to attribute a lost chance to providence, which provides the animal the opportunity to see yet another day. Sometimes, circumstances accumulate and smile kindly on a young buck, when he should have been dead.


A Perilous Existence

Despite however serene and pristine a whitetail’s world may appear, especially when compared to our own way of life, every day for him is a struggle to keep from being on someone’s menu. His plight is one of continual nervousness, where letting your guard down is never an option. His winters are brutal and harsh, summers are filled with intolerant biting insects and locating his next meal is usually a challenge. It is a life where the wolf is literally one step away from an open door.



For a buck to reach maturity, regardless of how high and heavy his antlers become is an incredible feat; an accomplishment many fawns never achieve. So, the next time good fortune shines upon you and you are happily admiring a magnificent buck stretched out upon the forest floor, one you have hunted diligently, appreciate the investment nature has made in this animal’s life. Without it, there is no crown, there is no coronation, and certainly no celebration.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer