Nothing does more to protect the lives of small bucks than the rumor or confirmed sighting of a monster. A trophy buck of such outstanding proportions that even the remote chance of a sighting or a shot leaves all but the largest of its antlered rivals untouched. Those younger deer are allowed to survive the hunting season and right into next year’s gene pool.
Recently a neighbor described one such deer as a true giant; more than two feet wide with both arms lifted above her head in an exaggerated curve duplicating the sweep of its antlers. Since then I’ve felt a bit more attentive on stand.
Daytime temperatures are still too warm for my blood but nature’s cycles continue on unabated. Bucks have entered a stage of the rut some falsely refer to as the “lock down.” A time during which numerous bucks will pursue a receptive doe and attend her until there has been ample opportunity to ensure next season’s fawn crop. Normally a buck with such an opportunity will be totally focused and not leave the does company. The period over which a single doe might attract the undivided attention of several bucks can last from one to two days with all animals involved sticking tight to a secluded cover.
If it happens on your property, you can witness frantic rutting behavior. If not, it can feel like all of the deer have left the country.
When multiple mature bucks are in attendance, fights can ensue. The broken antler tines of many attest to the fact that they are out for blood. Two deer that have spent months together protecting each other from predators will now attempt to kill each other over breeding dominance. A single buck with such a doe will attempt to move her to more secluded cover to avoid these confrontations. If the land you hunt doesn’t provide much privacy, there can be days without deer.
The opening of prairie deer season proved that many of the rumors were true. Giant bucks were taken in all corners of western South Dakota. I had the opportunity to pass on numerous deer that would have ended up on the game pole in year’s past while waiting on my chance for a rumored goliath.
The first buck walked my fence line at dawn. He had been attending four does who were uninterested and the deer needed to get back to his security cover. The prairie deer’s antlers were pale and blended in with the grass. There are fewer sappy pines to collect and hold the dirt and darken their color. Until he was only a few hundred yards away I didn’t notice his incredible mass. His main beams were wrist thick and the tines rose like crib slats, just not high enough for opening morning.
The second arrived at noon when most other hunters had returned to their trucks to share stories, eat, and nap. Older deer can sense when the hunters have thinned. Research on the movements of norther bucks have proven that they will travel up to four times more often over the middle of the day when the rut is active. I had set up over a hidden pocket that held six does and two young bucks. Each time a cloud bank would hide the sun, they would stand and stretch and move to a new patch of shade.
I was so focused on the whitetail in front of me that I didn’t see the charging buck herding his doe from behind. A heavy four-point, at least five years in age, he chased the young doe to with yards of my stand. It was open prairie behind me with little cover. They must have covered a mile in their attempt to find privacy here. Seeing that the occupied light was on, the buck drove the doe farther in search of a more private location.
The final encounter drew me in with the sounds of a fight. Brush was being trampled and antlers clashed. Two mature bucks of impressive dimensions were battling over the interests of an exhausted doe. They had chased her into submission then turned to each other to decide breeding rights. Evenly matched they had no time to notice the young spike that had slipped in and covered the doe.
Even for the biggest bucks, there is little certainty that your genes are the ones that advance. You fight your fights and take your chances, but in the end the smart ones that take advantage of opportunities are just as successful as the strong.
Hold out this year, and you might discover a giant.