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Do you think a buck is aware of the size of own rack?

fairchaser

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I’ve wondered about this. But I believe it’s true. Bucks with larger racks are treated differently by other deer as well as hunter’s pursuing them and therefore more wary than other deer. Maturity is also a factor in a buck’s wariness because they have more experiences to draw from. Which is more important?
 

Snake

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I would have to say of course but to a point . Let me try to explain my opinion . I think mature bucks with exceptional racks know that they possess the headgear to twart off competitors during the rut . With that being said I've seen lesser racked bucks be the aggressive buck over a buck with larger racks . So although I think they know what they have on top it don't mean that much when it comes to being a more dominant buck compared to bucks with lesser or more rack size . But dominant bucks tend to be the larger racked bucks but not always if that makes sense . JMO
 
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Lost Lake

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I think they are aware, and other bucks are aware of it too.

But I don’t necessarily believe that rack size dictates dominance. I’ve seen 110 inch mature bucks with much larger bodies push bigger racked bucks around like children.

Maybe it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but more the size of the fight in the dog.
 

megalomaniac

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I don't think individual bucks have any awareness of their own rack size, and rack size has zero correlation regarding dominance in the herd in my observations over 38 years. Age, overall health, and individual personality seem to be the primary determining factors regarding dominance.
 

JCDEERMAN

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I don't think individual bucks have any awareness of their own rack size, and rack size has zero correlation regarding dominance in the herd in my observations over 38 years. Age, overall health, and individual personality seem to be the primary determining factors regarding dominance.
Agreed

On a somewhat different note, I did see some research out of Miss St Univ that showed some interesting stuff in regards to does preference of bucks in accordance to their racks. Essentially they sawed off each set of antlers of a buck with great genetics and one with inferior genetics, swapped the antlers and glued them on their heads. If I remember correctly, the does preferred the bigger antlers - it was signaling that the buck with the larger antlers signaled genetic quality and overall superior health. Energy is put into building their body first, before it is put into their rack. Good habitats supporting deer Dec-March is crucial for this.

I watched a show on this, but did a quick search and found this article:


Anyone have any insight on the MSU deer program and their research? Just found this too - I may spend some time here looking around. Also looks like they have a podcast:

 

catman529

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I think they are aware, and other bucks are aware of it too.

But I don’t necessarily believe that rack size dictates dominance. I’ve seen 110 inch mature bucks with much larger bodies push bigger racked bucks around like children.

Maybe it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but more the size of the fight in the dog.
I saw a 3.5 year old with a crappy little basket rack twice this past season, 3 days and 700 yards apart, both times with a hot doe. First time he was trying to run off a yearling buck. Second time he snort wheezed and charged a 2.5 year old with a much bigger rack, and there was another 3.5 year old with a much bigger rack that didn’t even get close. He didn’t have much rack but he was the stud bull in that particular spot.

B9C1A971-2A68-440A-B396-CAE7518DD119.jpeg
 

BSK

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Anyone have any insight on the MSU deer program and their research?
Miss State is one of the universities that does the best deer research, especially with captive whitetails. Also on that list are Univ of Georgia, Univ of Texas at Stephen F. Austin, and Auburn.
 

BSK

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That Miss State study that showed doe preference for larger antlered bucks is truly fascinating, and I great study. However, in the wild, many other factors come into play. One of the best "successful breeder" research projects I've ever seen was conducted on a large military reservation in Oklahoma. Every year for several years, researchers would go into the field at fawning time and live-capture newborn fawns and take blood samples. These samples were used to sequence each fawn's DNA. All deer harvested during special hunts on the property had DNA samples taken. Researchers would also comb the property every spring to collect every dropped antler they could find, also to extract DNA. What they were able to produce over time was a massive "family tree" for most of the deer using the property that would show which buck sired each fawn.

For me, the three findings from this massive research project that stuck out were: 1) Most bucks sire very few fawns each year. I think the average was only one per buck. Just a few bucks produced several offspring in a single year. I believe the top for any one buck was 6 offspring in a year and that was a statistical outlier. 2) Even when the buck age structural is "normal," with mature bucks present, bucks of all ages successfully breed; even yearling bucks. However, successful breedings are "skewed" towards the older age-classes. In essence, mature bucks produce more fawns per buck than young bucks do. 3) Because they had the dropped antlers of many of the bucks, they could look at antler size compared to successful reproductions. They found larger-antlered bucks for their age-class did not produce more offspring than smaller-antlered bucks of the same age. In fact, the top breeders were generally average to slightly below average for their age antler-wise.

Social dominance among bucks is driven by body weight and personal disposition. The bigger bodied, bad-attitude bucks end up being socially dominant.
 

Weegee

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Agreed

On a somewhat different note, I did see some research out of Miss St Univ that showed some interesting stuff in regards to does preference of bucks in accordance to their racks. Essentially they sawed off each set of antlers of a buck with great genetics and one with inferior genetics, swapped the antlers and glued them on their heads. If I remember correctly, the does preferred the bigger antlers - it was signaling that the buck with the larger antlers signaled genetic quality and overall superior health. Energy is put into building their body first, before it is put into their rack. Good habitats supporting deer Dec-March is crucial for this.

I watched a show on this, but did a quick search and found this article:


Anyone have any insight on the MSU deer program and their research? Just found this too - I may spend some time here looking around. Also looks like they have a podcast:

I thought of the same study. I think I first heard of it on the Meateater podcast. The three variables they tried to isolate were age, body size, and antler size. They kept tabs on how much time does spent near the different bucks (separated by fences). Age and body size had basically no impact on the does. But when they introduced the antler size variable, the does spent 80% of their time near the big racked bucks and 20% near the little racked ones. Pretty cool.
 

backyardtndeer

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Think it really depends on the individual deer and their attitude. We had one that had no rack that was running off other bucks and chasing does. The next year, he was broken up and again was running off other bucks. The following year, my wife killed him with the muzzleloader early on. His rack on one side was perfect, would have been close to 22 inches inside if matched up and was heavy. The other side was goofed up, think a result of injury.

With that being said, sure they know when they bump things and run over stuff that their antlers are there.
 

BSK

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Another thing that must be considered is, what does social dominance means for an individual buck? All it really means is that in a conflict over an individual estrus doe, the dominant buck wins. However, whitetails have a VERY unusual breeding sequence that appears to guarantee one dominant male cannot breed all of the does in the area. Other ungulates (animals that chew their cud) all use a bull-and-harem social structure, where a dominant bull - who establishes his dominance through fighting and intimidation - collects a harem of all of the available females in the area, and the bull breeds all those females. This is many species means of passing on "superior" genetics. In theory, the bull has superior genetics because he is bigger and meaner than the other males he defeats. However, whitetails have a very different and very unique breeding process. All the females of a doe social unit are related to each other. They are all mothers, sisters, daughter, grand-daughters, etc. to each other. This female social unit has a genetic timing for their estrus. What this means is all of the females in that group come into estrus at about the same time. Because an individual doe requires a buck to chase her and "court her" for 24-48 hours, and all of the does come in and go out of estrus within days of each other, one buck physically cannot breed all those does. In fact, I strongly believe this is critical to what makes the white-tailed deer so adaptable. because one buck cannot breed all of the does in a social unit, they are all bred by different bucks. This produces tremendous genetic diversity within the offspring of that doe social unit. All the offspring of that one social unit will have the same lineage on their mother's side, but all have different genetics on their father's side.

DNA studies of white-tailed deer find they are one of the most genetically diverse mammal species known. I believe THAT is their species-specific survival mechanism. No matter what conditions arise, every local population has so much genetic diversity that just by chance, some will perform well. That is why whitetails stocked in locations around the world have done so well, while other ungulate species do not. This is also why whitetails naturally have such a vast range, from the boreal forests of the far north to the jungles of Central America. No matter the conditions, the massive genetic diversity within populations mean some will be naturally adapted to those new conditions, even extreme conditions.

But all of this means that social dominance isn't as important with whitetails as it is with other species, like mule deer and elk. Dominant male whitetails don't pass on their genetics at the same level as these other species. Instead of developing a system of passing on "superior" genetics through a dominant male, whitetails have developed a system that guarantees maximum genetic diversity as a long-term species survival method.
 
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JCDEERMAN

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Great stuff BSK. Every once in a while, you have that perfect matchup of male and female combination of genes that produce monarchs.....if they are able to make it to their full potential. They sure go through a lot
 

BSK

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Great stuff BSK. Every once in a while, you have that perfect matchup of male and female combination of genes that produce monarchs.....if they are able to make it to their full potential. They sure go through a lot
The genetic diversity within local populations is also why deer all living in the same environment express such different levels of antler growth, even at the same age. Wherever I've worked in the Southeast, for each age class above yearlings, I'll find a range of antler scores that exceeds 100 gross inches. By that I mean every age-class will have the smallest antlered buck scoring more than 100 inches less than the largest antlered buck of that age. That's a HUGE range.
 

fairchaser

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Fascinating stuff and great comments from everyone. My original question was poorly worded. Are bucks with bigger racks more difficult to kill because they have a proverbial price on their heads and they know it or is it just about maturity only?
 

DoubleRidge

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The genetic diversity within local populations is also why deer all living in the same environment express such different levels of antler growth, even at the same age. Wherever I've worked in the Southeast, for each age class above yearlings, I'll find a range of antler scores that exceeds 100 gross inches. By that I mean every age-class will have the smallest antlered buck scoring more than 100 inches less than the largest antlered buck of that age. That's a HUGE range.

What an interesting conversation ....allot has been shared to chew on and digest....good stuff..... really appreciate it!
For example....BSK...your comment about bucks having a 100" range in score within the same age group... fascinating...I never would have considered that fact....but after reading all of the comments in this thread....and considering all of the variables....it makes sense......I'll be going back through and rereading much of the information shared today.....thanks again.
 

megalomaniac

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Fascinating stuff and great comments from everyone. My original question was poorly worded. Are bucks with bigger racks more difficult to kill because they have a proverbial price on their heads and they know it or is it just about maturity only?
Individual mature bucks with huge racks are not any harder or easier to kill than mature bucks with inferior racks... it's just that there are 4 to 5 times more mature bucks with inferior racks alive due to high grading of each age class in the years prior to reaching maturity.

So... yes, mature bucks with huge racks are harder to kill... but only because there are so few of them in a population... In fact, most years, there are very few properties that will actually have a mature buck in the top 5% genetically for antler scores. So the chance of killing one outside those properties is around ZERO% :)
 

JCDEERMAN

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I thought of the same study. I think I first heard of it on the Meateater podcast. The three variables they tried to isolate were age, body size, and antler size. They kept tabs on how much time does spent near the different bucks (separated by fences). Age and body size had basically no impact on the does. But when they introduced the antler size variable, the does spent 80% of their time near the big racked bucks and 20% near the little racked ones. Pretty cool.
That's it! I recorded it on my phone as I was watching, but haven't had the time to try and find it. Very interesting for sure.
 
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