Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deer Wars: Once A Spike--Always A Spike?

At one time it was commonly believed that a spike buck was never going to be anything but a spike, but this is not as widely accepted today.  In my experience it is not ordinarily so and in fact I have not seen one instance of this in a lifetime of watching and photographing whitetail deer.  Neither have I seen an old buck that declined to the point that he only grew a spike rack, although this does seem possible as I have seen this in Pennsylvania elk.

For today's photos, I will post a series of a whitetail buck that was taken from 2007 through September of 2010.  There is absolutely no doubt that this is the same animal.

Buck Whitetail Fawn-Summer 2007
This deer was born in late May or early June and soon came to my attention as it accompanied its' mother to feed in a meadow on most evenings. 

He  grew a modest set of spikes in 2008.  Although I saw him  almost daily, I took few photographs as he was so small.  Most bucks in this area grow antlers ranging from spikes to three or four points during their second summer ( 1 year of age)  with a rare animal growing a six or eight point rack. It seems that most bucks disperse from their home range during the summer or autumn that they have their first substantial rack (many points and decent spread), but many of the spikes and four points, etc. will remain until the following spring or in unusual cases until the rut begins the following fall.

Buck With Modest Spikes In 2008

As it turned out this buck didn't disperse in 2009 and I got to document him as he grew a decent eight-point rack of an estimated 12" in spread. A few years before this had I seen a buck such as this I would have estimated it to be a large  1 1/2 yr old instead of one of 2 1/2 years.

Buck With 8 point rack In 2009
Contrary to all expectations the buck did not disperse that autumn.  He was shot with a rifle in early October, but survived the wound.  Only bow season was in at the time, so this was the result of a failed poaching attempt.

Bullet Wound 2009

It seems likely that this injury prevented him from dispersing that fall as the wound did have a profound effect on him.  He appeared to be very stiff for a long time after this and his neck never became large and swollen for the rut as is normal for whitetail bucks.  He did chase does to a limited extent in November and was in a brief fight, which may be seen in "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country", but he lost that to a much smaller buck.  Whatever the case, for the first time, I got to see a buck remain in his home territory during his second year.

He did disperse the following May. I had given up all hope of seeing him again, but he returned one evening in early September of 2010.

Buck With 8 Point Rack 2010
He and a buck that was one year younger were traveling together (both had dispersed at the same time). The bucks were still at the meadows at dawn on the following morning, but they left soon after sunup to never be seen again in that area.

I have documented numerous other cases of small bucks eventually growing much larger racks over a period of years, but in the other cases these are bucks that dispersed into my area of operations when they left their home range and I have not been able to photograph another buck from the time he was a fawn until he was over three years old.

Eventually I hope to discuss what I consider to be the major factors in determining antler size and why I think drastic herd reduction is not  the panacea for growing larger bucks that many proclaim it to be.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Ruth Hiebert said...

Amazing photos. Oh,I hate to see an animal get injured like that,but I guess those are the realities of life.

Lindsjö taxar said...

Very interesting! How great you could follow him. Very nice pictures

Unknown said...

Wow, what a great photography, you are really a great wildlife photographer and you have great photography skills. Last photography has great admirable look Buck with 8 Point Rack. Thanks for sharing these amazing photographs.

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Unknown said...

Good looking bucks and pics. Thanks for info. Keep up the terrific job, my friend.