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The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths

Day 2: How and When Does a Deer Become a Dominant Buck?

Editor’s Note: Although a dominant buck is the prize for which most deer hunters search long and hard, what do we really know about the dominant buck? Is it only by right of combat that he has claimed the most-favored status? Is there a dominant buck in every section of the woods? Do all dominant bucks sport heavy racks and carry heavy body weights? Is the dominant buck always a certain age or older? I’ve talked with experts from various sections of the country to find the answers to these questions and to learn what’s the truth and fiction about dominant bucks.

Click for Larger ViewDr. Larry Marchinton, a retired professor of wildlife biology at the University of Georgia’s School of Forest Resources, is a widely-recognized authority on deer behavior. Marchinton believes if older bucks are present in a herd, one buck will rise to the position of dominance when he is 5- or 6-years old. “A buck rises to dominance through maturity and sparring. Immediately after the velvet is removed from the deer’s antlers, bucks will spar to test each other’s physical prowess and strength. Click for Larger ViewAlthough this sparring is not an all-out fight, the bucks will learn their positions among the other bucks in the area. The bucks that prove to be the strongest are the ones that will assume positions of dominance by the time breeding season arrives.”

Dr. Harry Jacobson, a retired wildlife researcher and professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at Mississippi State University, is another of the nation’s leading deer researchers and explains, “For most bucks, the process of dominance probably starts well before the rutting season. In our section of the country, a sorting-out takes place within age groups that may begin as early as the fawn-age class. Dominance relates to early encounters between bucks as much as anything else. If a young buck is whipped one time, he’s less likely to challenge again the buck that’s whipped him. Probably dominance is determined psychologically as well as by the actual physical size and antler size of an animal. Also, dominance sometimes may be expressed because of the territory imperative theory of behavior. For instance, if you’re on your home turf, you have the advantage over someone who’s not. Familiarity with your surroundings and being in your own place of residence has much to do with how you defend that territory. Some parallels in human psychology may help us to understand a deer’s psychological makeup, since most anyone is more willing to defend something that belongs to him.” Once a buck begins to exert dominance over his peers through sparring matches, establishes a home territory and possibly outlives the other bucks in his age class in that region, he may defend his home range and his right to be sultan of his harem, until his position in the herd is changed.

Can More Than One Dominant Buck Exist in the Same Area?

Click for Larger ViewMany of us believe only-one dominant buck exists at one time in a particular hunting area, and once someone bags him, that’s the only dominant buck likely to be seen during the entire season. However, Dr. Marchinton says more than one dominant buck can exist in the same region. “Deer are not generally territorial in the sense that only one dominant buck occupies a specific site,” Marchinton mentions. “Several dominant bucks at various times may use the same area. Click for Larger ViewUsually the highest buck in the hierarchy at a particular point in time and in a specific place will be the dominant buck for that region.” Dr. Jacobson comments, “A buck will generally tolerate other bucks within his territory. Most often a pecking order of dominance exists. Occasionally animals that seem to be buddies or pals won’t challenge each other but may challenge another buck of equal size in their region. Much of what we know about deer behavior is based on what has been observed from confined, tame animals, which may not be representative of the behavior exhibited in the wild.”

To learn more about successfully hunting deer, purchase John E. Phillips’ books, “The Masters’ Secrets of Hunting Deer,” “The Science of Deer Hunting,” “How to Take Monster Bucks,” and “Masters’ Secrets of Bowhunting Deer” at

Tomorrow: How Does the Dominant Buck Deer Demonstrate His Dominance?

Check back each day this week for more about "The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths "

Day 1: Do You Have a Dominant Buck Deer on the Land You Hunt?
Day 2: How and When Does a Deer Become a Dominant Buck?
Day 3: How Does the Dominant Buck Deer Demonstrate His Dominance?
Day 4: What Is the Range of a Dominant Buck?
Day 5: Facts You Need to Know about Buck Deer

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Entry 642, Day 2