Clash of the Antlers & Deer Dominance


During Breeding, Deer are More Active Day and Night! *


Deer are herding animals. As such, they live  according to their hierarchy in their group.  By the time breeding begins, the hierarchy (dominance) of the bucks is usually determined.

Generally, the dominant buck is between 4 1/2 and 7 1/2 years old.


Deer are enjoying the hot days of summer by lying about and eating their fill.  Their antlers are still covered in velvet, which means that the antlers are still soft and growing.


Although breeding won’t begin for more than a month, things are starting to change.  The deer become more agitated. Although the bucks’ antlers may still have velvet on them, the antlers have almost totally ossified (turned to bone).

Each day brings an increase in the bucks’ blood testosterone, which signals the antlers to harden and the velvet to curl up and fall off.

Without a mirror to view his ‘rack,’ bucks start whacking their antlers against small saplings or cedar bushes.  They need to learn what they can and can’t do with their head-gear!

Whitetail Bucks & the Pecking Order

Fortunately for hunters,  the pecking order of each group is determined while the deer’s antlers are still covered in velvet, which means that they are less likely to fatally gore each other.

This is nature’s way of making sure that the fittest will survive to breed.

However, dominance in the herd is not determined by antler-goring but by deer flailing each other with their front legs, while standing on their back two legs!

Does engage in this behavior too, because they have a distinct place in the group!  The flailing continues until one of the combatants yields.

The Dominant Deer’s Decisions

The dominant buck, often called the ‘old monarch,’ is usually wily as well as a good fighter.  Generally, he keeps lower ranking animals in their place.

He has little tolerance for a 2 1/2 year old trying to replace him, but may be more cautious in fighting a 4 1/2 year old. The elder animal may be strong enough to challenge his leadership … or even mortally wound him!

Does also give him respect; should a female aggravate him, he can  mortally wound her with his impressive rack.

Pre-Rut Behaviors

Bucks use the weeks before  breeding to develop their neck & shoulder muscles by rubbing their antlers against trees and bushes.  Those scrapes also can be territorial markers.

The closer it gets to the breeding season, the fewer buck fights occur.   Sometimes, they actually stop.   They have more important things to consider!


‘Midnight Run’ used by permission of Vantage Point Graphics


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Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 9:19 am  Comments Off on Clash of the Antlers & Deer Dominance  
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