Comings and goings of bucks


We've interviewed biologists and hunters about the button buck
problem. Recently we discussed that reason seems to dictate that if
you don't shoot button bucks you'll have more bucks to hunt the next

However, according to Brian Murphy, the executive director of the
Quality Deer Management Association in Watkinsville, Georgia,
"Research suggests that 50 to 80 percent of all button bucks that
don't get harvested or die of natural causes before they're 1 year of
age disperse from the areas where they were born and will move 1- to
5-miles away.

On some occasions, they'll move as far as 30 miles. So, don't get
upset if one of the members of your hunting lease mistakenly takes a
buck he thinks is a doe, because most of the button bucks you raise on
your property will move onto your neighbor's land anyway."

Research also indicates that bucks will disperse an average of two
to five miles in a straight line from their birthplaces. In Alabama
and many other states you can't draw a straight line from hardly any
property that extends 3 miles that doesn't cross property lines. If
you want to have more bucks to hunt on your property, you need to
promote quality deer management with neighboring landowners.

Encourage your neighbors not to harvest button bucks or to keep
their button buck harvest down to 10 percent or less.

"In fact, only about one in three button bucks you work so hard to
protect actually will reach adulthood on your land," Murphy explains.
"The rest of the button bucks probably will move onto your neighbor's

Even though mistakes will happen from time to time, you can take
certain steps to minimize the numbers of button bucks the hunters on
your property mistakenly take. First, don't wait until the end of the
season to take does, when you'll find determining the difference
between a buck fawn and a doe much more difficult. Because buck fawns
grow much more quickly than the doe fawns, at the end of the season a
button buck's size will nearly equal the size of a year-old doe.
Besides, if your club harvests does early in the season when you
easily can tell the difference between a mature doe and her buck fawn,
you may reap an additional reward.

As Murphy reports, "Research indicates if you harvest an adult doe
that has a buck fawn at her side, the buck fawn will more than likely
stay on your property."

Does typically run young bucks off a property. Therefore, with a
doe absent at the time of dispersal, the buck has a much greater
tendency to remain on your land.

You also can avoid mistakes by not shooting under low-light
conditions and at long range. These two factors contribute to mistaken
identity in part because young bucks that don't know how to dodge
hunters usually will come out in the green field or feed under oak
trees first. With minimal daylight available and no other deer around
for size comparisons, that young buck may look as big as a doe.

Murphy suggests waiting until you have more than one deer in a
feeding area, if you're trying to harvest does. You'll have deer to
compare, and you can make better decisions as to which one's a button
buck and which one's a doe.

Mark Thomas, a certified wildlife biologist and forester from
Birmingham, Ala., recommends that you look closely at the top of the
deer's head. "When you look at the top of a button buck's head and
locate where the pedicles of the antlers grow, you'll see they extend
up from the forehead and cause the rounded portion of the head to
become homogenized and look flat. Therefore, when you look at a young
button buck's forehead, you'll find it flat in appearance. However, a
more-rounded rather than a flat forehead usually indicates a doe.

"The U.S. deer herd currently comprises between 32 and 38 million
animals, a huge number. We have grossly over-harvested young bucks and
grossly under-harvested does over the last 30 or 40 years, which has
led to a chaotic, extremely-stressed deer herd. In a normal, balanced
population, bucks don't even breed until they reach 3-1/2 years or
older. However, in many southern states now, yearling bucks do the
breeding because no older-age-class bucks exist to dominate them.
We've got to bring the number of deer down to a more-balanced level,
reduce the number of does and let bucks move into those older-age

Thomas emphasizes that he sees habitat degradation (destruction)
throughout the nation, especially in regions that don't permit
hunting. "We're especially seeing habitat destruction in state and
federal parks where deer herds aren't hunted."