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Whitetail bucks are social networking critters

October 29, 2009 at 12:49 PM


At the risk of being unorthodox, heck, downright heretical, the following pronouncement ought to get me, if not excommunicated from “The Traditional School of Whitetail Understanding,” at least sanctioned.

But I’ve had a flag or two thrown on me before.

There are dangers in going against traditional dogma and doctrine. Not the least of which, ridicule and shame greet the heretic. And none of us like to be laughed at by the group, especially hunting buddies at camp or at the archery range.

But the weight of evidence—empirical and experiential—has led me to conclude that bachelor buck groups never break up and communicate in a non-vocal way—almost like they have their own Internet.

The buck group expands and contracts, and experiences times of seeming dissolution. But for all intents and purposes, one could say they remain demonstrably intact, just like a family.

All avid deer hunters and serious whitetail researchers would agree that most of the calendar year, antlered bucks older than 1 ½ are in bachelor groups. So in that light, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with “The Traditional School of Whitetail Understanding.”

To define it even further, the common understanding would say that whitetail bucks form a bachelor group after the rut, and these bucks hang together through the winter, the spring, the summer and the early fall, and then break up.

So, most of the year, except for a month or so, bucks appear together as a unit.

And there seems to be different bachelor groups, some composed of mature and immature deer on ranges with a relatively dense population. Therefore, there may in fact be two bachelor groups or male units moving around separately in the same range.

We may also conclude that whitetails are extreme social creatures, the literal definition of a herd animal. Yet common understanding by hunters has it that bucks are solitary.

The vast majority of whitetail literature speaks about “a buck made a scrape,” or “a buck made a rub,” or when setting up a stand it is “for a buck.” And the emphasis is on “a buck” and not “the bucks in the area.”

What are most rubs and scrapes, if not communication tools between bucks? Look at these olfactory markers as Facebook or MySpace pages for whitetails.

To deer, it must be much more than only the sign of another deer’s passing, more than just a slash on a tree. Buck rubs must be complex chemical, olfactory “message boards” on the Internet or like cork community bulletin boards in a grocery store, where everyone pins up notes to each other, announcing what’s for sale and what they want.

“Sign post rubs” or “perennial rubs”—those trees or posts that bucks hit year after year—are great examples of this behavior. And some scrapes deemed “primary scrapes” are opened up in the same spot, year after year.

Bucks can not stand to physically be around many of the members of their bachelor group during the rut, but since they are herd animals, they only expand the distance between each other and communicate, not through grooming, but at this time by “message boards”—rubs and scrapes, the whitetail olfactory internet.

And we see a buck and assume it is alone because the physical space between it and the rest of its companions in the bachelor group are out of our immediate perception. It’s “A” buck and probably looking for a doe.

But maybe we would be more accurate, but then considered heretical, if we assumed, when we saw a buck that there are undoubtedly others around. And the buck was relating either in a negative or positive way to a one of his “bros” in his posse, his Facebook “friends” or Twitter “followers.”

And then we may even say to ourselves, when on stand, “There’s one, get ready, another may be coming along soon.” Bucks are social networking critters, too.

Oak Duke is publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter in Wellsville, N.Y. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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