Outdoor Articles

How Social Status Affects Deer Health

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Big Game Hunting

A low position in the breeding hierarchy results in less reproductive behavior and lower weight loss. The young bucks that do not breed grow to greater body size before they become dominant. This soon results in an overall increase in the number of older dominant bucks which leads to earlier fawning dates and heavier body sizes of yearling bucks … and this leads to higher survival rates and eventually to increased buck numbers.

It’s June

Bucks and does should be on their summer home ranges, and the does should be fawning.

How Social Status Affects Deer Health and The Rut

As a result of a deer management study by Dr. Larry Marchinton between 1981 and 1986, it is now believed that the peak of the rut, or peak breeding period, of white-tailed deer should normally occur from mid-October to late November in many areas. It is also believed that it is the current management and hunting practices in many areas (which result in lower than normal buck:doe ratios) that are the cause of the rut being delayed until late November, and continuing into January and even February in many northern states. During Marchinton’s study (with the emphasis on quality management) the average number of fetuses per does over the age of 2 ½; years increased from 1.6 in 1985 to 1.9 in 1986, and pregnancy in doe fawns was detected in 1985.

Fetal male:female sex ratios shifted from 64:36 during 1981-83, to a more balanced 47:53 during 1984-86. The average weights of yearling bucks increased from 90 pounds in 1982 to 110.5 pounds during the 1983-86 portion of the study. There was a significant weight increase in the 3.5 year and older bucks in a similar study by McKelvy. The positive results of these studies were credited to the increased age structure of the bucks.

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An increase in the number of older dominant bucks also has a direct suppressing effect on the testosterone levels of younger bucks, which reduces their aggressiveness and competition for breeding privileges. Since a low position in the breeding hierarchy results in less reproductive behavior and lower weight loss, those young bucks that do not breed grow to greater body size before they become dominant. This results in an overall increase in the number of older dominant bucks which leads to earlier fawning dates and heavier body sizes of yearling bucks, and this leads to higher survival rates and eventually to increased buck numbers.

If both game managers and hunters can agree to reduce the number of does and let the younger bucks grow, while still keeping the herds balanced and within the carrying capacity of the habitat, there will be an increase in the number of older bucks. There is also a good probability that the younger non-breeding bucks, because they are not stressed by breeding activity, will produce larger racks. The increased number of older bucks may also shorten the length of the rut and make it occur earlier. This could mean that hunters who prefer to hunt during the rut might be forced to hunt a month earlier, and they might be forced to take up archery hunting, or game managers might be forced to change the timing of some hunts. But, the end result of an increased number of older bucks will create a healthier more balanced deer herd, and increase the odds of hunters seeing more, and bigger, bucks.

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