Deer & Deer Hunting

BREEDER BUCKS COME IN ALL SHAPES & SIZES

The breeding system of white-tailed deer involves formation of a tending bond, through which a buck courts, guards and tends an estrous female. Traditionally, researchers believed a strict breeding hierarchy results, wherein relatively few of the most dominant males monopolized and bred nearly all of the estrous females. Generally, we thought bucks were not choosy regarding with which females they mate, but instead, maximized their reproductive success by mating with as many females as possible, despite intense competition for mates.

Although we thought relatively few of only the highest ranking individuals sired most of the offspring annually, research indicates this might not be the case. Studies employing genetic techniques challenge this line of thinking, even when whitetail populations are unhunted and the male segment of the herd is well age structured.

BREEDING HIERARCHY

Typically, a buck’s body size, antler size, fighting ability, signposting skills, courtship finesse and dominance rank increase with age. These traits and skills normally peak when he’s between 4½ and 8½ years old. Hence, these prime-age individuals would be expected to do the bulk of the breeding, whereas smaller, younger and less skilled bucks would have little opportunity to secure mates.

Presumably, such a breeding strategy, through which male mating success is determined by individual rank on the dominance hierarchy, assures genetic fitness of the offspring conceived, because only the physically superior males would reproduce. For example, this has been proven to be the case for some ungulates, such as reindeer. And, based on observational studies, we also thought whitetails employed this type of breeding strategy. Although all this makes good adaptive sense — and tends to be

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