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The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths

Day 5: Facts You Need to Know about Buck Deer

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.

What’s the Life Expectancy of a Buck Deer?

Click for Larger ViewRetired deer researcher Dr. Harry Jacobson (See Days 2, 3, 4) emphasizes that the probability of any buck surviving in a heavily-hunted area is, “Low. Many public regions have a 70% mortality in the buck segment of the population. The odds of a buck living to age 3 are low. Rarely do sportsmen find a buck 4-years or older in heavily-hunted public or private places.” But as Michael Stickney of New York State (see Days 1 & 3) comments, “Not much of an age limit exists in a situation where bucks are unhunted. The oldest bucks I’ve seen are 8-1/2- and 9-1/2-years old, although once I shot a 14-year old doe. In an unhunted situation, I think deer may live to be in their teens. We have records of a doe kept in captivity that lived to be 22, and I was reading the other day about a buck kept in captivity that was 20-years old.” Click for Larger ViewDr. Jacobson thinks the life expectancy depends on the age structure of that particular population of deer. “If the buck is the only adult male in his region, his life expectancy is probably good. If he’s a 5-year-old buck, and no others his age are around to challenge his dominance, then he has very-few mortality factors to contend with, unless his health declines during the rut, or he is beset by parasites or disease. But if he’s one of a bunch of adult bucks in a region, the stress on him will be much greater. Also, the probability of trauma-induced mortality through fighting and other causes, because he’s continuously in a combative role will be much higher – maybe even 30% mortality.” “The life expectancy of a deer not hunted may be well over 10-years old,” avid deer hunter and deer researcher (see Days 2, 3 & 4), Dr. Larry Marchinton reports. “Generally if a buck lives long enough, he’ll reach the dominant position. Nobody knows exactly how long a buck will maintain dominance, but I’ve seen 10- and 11-year-old bucks that still are dominant.”

Can We Manage Herds to Stockpile Dominant Bucks?

Click for Larger View“The quality management methods originally proposed by Al Brothers and Murphy Ray in their book written on quality deerherd management in Texas included passing-up younger bucks and allowing them to reach older ages,” Dr. Marchinton says. “Some parts of the South are doing this now. Building-up the age structure among bucks is possible. But a hotly-debated issue is how many of these bucks still will die because of natural causes and fighting, even when they’re stockpiled.” Jacobson suggests that although you can’t stockpile dominance, “You can improve the number of adult bucks by not harvesting as many of them. Then, they will reach the older-age classes. The primary mortality factor is hunting. Restricting hunting pressure on that male segment provides more bucks. In terms of a management program, no pet formula exists. Each management situation is totally different as is each environmental situation. You must examine what the limiting factor is in that deer’s population.”

When’s the Best Time to Hunt the Dominant Buck?

Click for Larger ViewAlthough most experts agree that during the rut is the time dominant bucks are the most vulnerable, as Dr. Jacobson mentions, “How you hunt a dominant buck during the rut depends on the environment you’re hunting. For instance, I’ll hunt differently in south Texas than in Mississippi. But a dominant buck during the rut is less wary and is more likely to make mistakes.” Marchinton comments that since a buck’s job in life is to breed does, if the buck has earned that right, then the buck will exercise that privilege when the does come into heat. “Those dominant bucks will be out and about at all times during that 24-hour period. They won’t be out of sight and hidden like they are during most of deer season. That’s when to hunt them.”

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

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 5