Ever wonder why bucks sometimes spar with each other when their antlers are still in velvet? It’s a fascinating behavior among whitetails, especially because we know that velvet antlers are extremely sensitive.
John Ozoga has been Deer & Deer Hunting’s research editor for the past 20 years. Before that, he was one of the top whitetail research biologists in North America. He conducted most of his work in Upper Michigan during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Here are John’s Whitetail Wisdom insights on how bucks using sparring to determine their rank (pecking order, so to speak) in the whitetail herd:
Soon after shedding velvet, bucks tend to meet in open areas and engage in highly ritualized sparring. All bucks partake in such contests, which can involve deer that are evenly matched or mismatched in age, body size and antler form.
The yearling buck, for example, seems compelled to provoke antler contact with other, often older bucks. Sparring is not always a decisive contest, but it can be. Some researchers believe early-season sparring is as essential in forming social bonds among males as mutual grooming is in the bonding of females.
If a male is to achieve a social rank before the breeding season, he must interact with other males of any size. A sparring match often begins when one buck approaches another, lowers its head and presents its antlers. During early autumn, soon after velvet shedding, the second buck usually accepts the invitation to spar. In skill sparring, a buck gains knowledge of his antlers’ size and configuration relative to that of other bucks.
These bouts tend to be gentle, almost congenial. Bucks click their antlers together with minimal pushing and shoving. When two grossly mismatched bucks engage in skill sparring, the large-antlered buck might merely lower its head, sometimes offering only one side of the rack. He’ll stand still, and offer only a little resistance, tolerating the persistent attention of the smaller buck.
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