Do We Need Those Big Bucks?

Dave R. from West Virginia writes to ask about the importance of mature bucks. “I realize that in an ideal situation you should have a high number of 2-1/2-year-old bucks, some 3-1/2’s, and a fair number of 4-1/2’s and 5-1/2-year-old bucks, but where I live most bucks are yearlings. They’ll mate the does, too, so from a biological point of view, does it really matter whether we have older age classes of bucks?”

Dr. Dave Samuel
Dr. Dave Samuel

Obviously hunters want more older bucks, but as Dave asks, from the biological aspect, does it matter? Just from a common sense point of view, it has to matter, simply because in parts of the country where the buck age structure represents all age classes of bucks, three-fourths of the doe matings are done by the older bucks. There has to be reasons for this. We know that bucks have pheromones that they deposit at scrapes and rubs, and since big bucks do most of the mating these pheromones must stimulate the does more so than pheromones from yearling bucks. Perhaps the yearlings do not even produce such pheromones, or not enough. Also note that older bucks back rubs and scrapes much earlier than yearlings, thus, the older bucks may play a bigger role in “priming” the does prior to breeding season.

Kip Adams has a neat article on this topic in the October 2008 issue of Quality Whitetails (from the Quality Deer Management Association). He notes that deer remains from early Native American trash piles show that when there was little or no hunting, deer populations had lots of mature bucks. So, we know that it is normal for deer populations to have lots of mature bucks and that our deer evolved with lots of mature bucks. Socially then, we can expect that reproductive systems in deer are more “normal” when you have lots of older bucks. It seems pretty important to me.

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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