The Dominant Buck Deer - Facts & Myths
Day 1: Do You Have a Dominant Buck Deer on the Land You Hunt?
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.
Many deer-hunting experts wonder whether hunters in Pennsylvania – one of the most-avid deer-hunting states - have the opportunity to hunt a dominant buck in their state. “I don’t know that we have dominant bucks in Pennsylvania like those sportsmen in other states hunt,” one avid hunter explains. “Almost all the bucks in our state seem to be harvested every year. Generally, a dominant buck is 4- or 5-years old. But in Pennsylvania, the 4- and 5-year-old bucks probably make up less than one percent of the number of bucks in this state.”
In parts of New York, you may looking for a dominant buck in areas where no such animal exists, according to Michael Stickney, of the Big Game Unit, Department of Conservation in New York. “Around the southern tier of New York, the average life span of a buck is about 1-1/2-years, which is when deer produce their first set of antlers. We estimate 75 to 80 percent of the bucks in the southern zone are shot during the first week of deer season.” Stickney mentions that biologists do see an older-age class of bucks – about 2-1/2-years old – in the northern zone, primarily in the Adirondack Mountains, where the rugged terrain requires hard hunting. A good number of bucks live to be much-older there due to the lack of hunting pressure. “Sometimes in the northern zone, bucks will be 8- to 9-1/2-years old, and these older-age-classes do show signs of dominance,” Stickney says. “In New York, most of the dominance we observe is based primarily on age. We occasionally see dominant bucks in archery-only areas or in regions where no one can hunt – generally around urban areas surrounded by green belts where deer aren’t being harvested. Dominance is exerted when competition exists between bucks. Only in places where bucks have to fight for the right to breed and have the opportunity to live long enough to do that do we see dominance exerted.” In the South, where deer herds often are managed much-more intensively, especially on private lands, the role of the dominant buck comes into play generally as the age structure of the deer herd is allowed to mature.
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 www.nighthawkpublications.com/hunting/hunting.htm.