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The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths

Day 3: How Does the Dominant Buck Deer Demonstrate His Dominance?

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 ViewHave you ever noticed a bully on the beach? He’ll flirt with the bikini-clad girl at his side and you know you’ll be in trouble. The bully has a certain posture and air that tells all the other men on the beach to beware. This same posturing is often how a dominant buck exerts his superiority over other bucks in his territory. Click for Larger ViewAccording to Dr. Harry Jacobson, a retired deer researcher and wildlife professor (see Day 2), “Although a buck exerts dominance in a number of ways, he primarily uses body language. When he approaches a subordinate animal, he will give that buck a hard stare. If that buck doesn’t display the appropriate submissive behavior or posture, then the situation intensifies to a whole series of displays, which can end-up in conflict.”

Michael Stickney of New York (see Day 1) believes that sheer physical size, combined with the age of the dominant buck, may cause subordinate bucks to back-down. “A mature buck 4-1/2- to 6-1/2-years-old is a sizeable animal, and deer can make themselves look even bigger by bristling their neck hair. Because a dominant buck often has a large, heavy rack and is the head of his pecking order, this dominant buck doesn’t have to fight, unless he encounters another buck that’s his equal. The dominant buck has an aggressive posture that signals to other bucks to give way or do battle. He’ll intimidate other bucks by laying his ears flat against his neck, walking sideways very stiff-legged and making his hair stand erect.”

If Two Dominant Bucks Exist in One Area, Will One Cause the Other to Leave His Range?

No clear-cut answer seems to be known to this question. However, Dr. Larry Marchinton, a renowned deer researcher (see Day 2), introduces a new term for most of us: Superdominance. “I believe superdominance is present sometimes among deer,” Click for Larger ViewMarchinton states. “A buck may be dominant anywhere he goes, if he’s head and shoulders above any other buck in any area. At the same time, some dominant bucks are not clearly superior over others. So, a situation may arise where two dominant bucks both find the same doe in heat. In this case, these bucks may fight to decide at that particular moment and then have the right to breed the doe.”

Jacobson hasn’t found that a dominant buck normally runs a challenger out of his area. “I think what biologists observe instead is that, following a confrontation with a dominant buck, a subordinate buck from then on no longer contests the status of dominance, but instead gives way to the dominant buck. Click for Larger ViewDeer have a lingering hierarchy of dominance. Just because one buck is subordinate to another and may be the number-two buck, he still may dominate over the other bucks in the pecking order. There’s not always a clear-cut idea that, ‘This is the dominant buck.’ A constant shifting of rank happens between individual bucks that are close-to-evenly matched. While these bucks may not contest the next individual up the pecking order, they constantly contest each other and challenge other bucks in the region.”

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: What Is the Range of a Dominant Buck?

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 4