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The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths

Day 4: What Is the Range of 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 ViewFor years, we’ve all been taught that a buck’s home range is about one mile, but research tends to dispute this belief. Bucks, especially dominant bucks, may travel quite a distance and may consider a tremendous amount of land their home ranges. As nationally-recognized deer researcher Dr. Larry Marchinton (see Days 2 & 3) comments, “Work is being done on that subject. Although the actual size of a dominant buck’s range is controversial, research has indicated that deer, including bucks, have a fairly-small home range. Then, as time went on, scientists began to find that the young bucks, particularly the yearlings, change their home ranges and go through a period when they wander over a considerable area. In one case, we had a report of a buck moving about 100 miles. Click for Larger ViewThis movement was exceptional, because 3 or 4 miles is normal for a shift in a deer’s range. Research has shown that dominant bucks, at least some of them, may cover up to several thousand acres or more. We haven’t determined just how-many older bucks move that far. Several different bucks have been radio-tracked over a good-size area, but whether most of them range that far, or these are exceptions, remains to be seen.” According to Dr. Harry Jacobson, another well-known deer researcher (see Days 2 & 3), a buck’s home range is very habitat-dependent. “Home range is a very-individualistic thing. A deer’s home range depends on the animal’s physical condition and his habitat. Deer are much like people. Some are stay-at-home deer that may remain within a fairly-limited range all their lives. Others may move over a considerable distance. Generally, during the pre-rut and post-rut periods, a dominant buck is probably confined to a smaller region, which is his core rut area. But he may come to and from that place daily and cover a considerable distance. His bedding area may be some distance from what he considers his rutting region.”

Will One Dominant Buck Cross another Buck’s Area, and Do These Bucks Fight When They Meet?

Click for Larger ViewAs Dr. Marchinton explains, “Bucks of equal size often will be in the same area at the same time. A graduate student and I did some radio tracking about three decades ago. We had radio-equipped an obviously-dominant buck that lived on a peninsula next to the Okefenenokee Swamp, which had feed troughs where the deer were fed. However, another equally-big buck that didn’t live in the area came to those troughs to feed. We discovered that when another dominant buck moved into a region, as long as he didn’t take a belligerent or an aggressive posture, the buck who ‘owned’ the region probably would tolerate him, which meant the bucks didn’t have to fight. Click for Larger ViewIf a doe had been in heat, I don’t know which male would have dominated, but I suspect it would have been the buck that lived there, if these bucks were equal otherwise. Usually bucks don’t fight to the death, although that can happen, and is not that infrequent.” As Dr. Jacobson explains, “When bucks fight one animal generally gives-up. The only time they fight to the death is if one of them gets mortally wounded, or if they accidentally lock their antlers, which may be more frequent with older bucks than we’ve previously thought. But the intent to do bodily injury to the other guy does exist. If bucks have a chance, they’ll mortally wound the other animal.”

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: Facts You Need to Know about Buck Deer

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