A Whitetail Buck’s Fall and Winter Calendar — Part II

Before continuing this series, I need to set the stage for all breeding-related activities of antlered whitetail bucks. For most bucks, everything happens within about one square-mile; for a few, about two square miles. In farm areas 640-acre (one square-mile) ranges of mature bucks can be long and skinny, composed of connecting woodlots, brushy watercourses, forested lowlands and steep woody slopes.


The four months before breeding-related activities begin, May through August, is the antler growing season. Except in intensively farmed regions where suitable habitat is limited and whitetails are crowded, bucks two years of age or older are generally loners during this period, doing little but bedding, feeding and watering in relatively small and secluded areas. At the end of August antler growth is complete and the flow of blood to antler enveloping velvet shuts down. The odor of deteriorating velvet then begins to attract swarms of flesh-eating insects such a yellowjackets and flies, finally forcing bucks to rid their antlers of velvet by vigorously rubbing it off on small diameter tree trunks and woody shrubs. This usually takes a few days.

Once free of velvet, about September 1st, Phase I of breeding-related activities of whitetail bucks begin. The minds of antlered bucks (including yearlings) now turn to three important activities: 1) exploring the entire extent of their home ranges, 2) becoming acquainted or reacquainted with all other deer living within their home ranges and 3) using their new antlers to gain dominance via battles (shoving matches with antlers engaged) with all other antlered bucks living in the surrounding square mile — typically the largest buck home range established by the largest and most aggressive of bucks 4-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age in that area. The overall victor of battles earns exclusive breeding rights throughout its range after does begin experiencing estrus (heat) in November.

Home ranges of whitetails are areas in which they normally live (spend most of their time) during spring, summer, fall and early winter (until about the end of the third week in December in Minnesota), after which they migrate and live in wintering areas until snow melt in spring. They are sometimes forced to temporarily abandon their ranges by hunters or large predators. Lesser antlered bucks (yearlings and mature bucks prevented from breeding) are temporarily driven off-range by dominant breeding bucks beginning about mid-October — 2–3 weeks before November breeding begins — and are generally kept off-range by dominant breeding bucks throughout the two-week breeding period in November. Some older bucks I have trailed off range appeared to be knowledgeable of areas as large as 36 square-miles. Whitetails are also sometimes drawn off-range by special foods such as falling acorns, scarce water or airborne pheromone emitted by a doe while in heat. Yearling bucks and does, normally live within the ranges of their mothers throughout their yearling year, typically beginning to explore short distances off-range in fall. When nearing two years of age, early during their second spring, they are driven off-range by their mothers, then forced to seek and establish their own first home ranges. They not uncommonly travel many miles before locating appropriately sized areas of suitable habitat not inhabited by other deer (Nature’s plan for preventing in-breeding).

Depending on deer densities, home ranges of does with young are 90–250 acres in size, averaging about 125 acres. Doe ranges do not ordinarily overlap. They are separated by buffer zones made up of natural features such openings, roads, ridges, swamps, lakes and watercourses. In habitat where whitetails are not overabundant, there is usually four, sometimes five, doe home ranges in a square-mile.

First home ranges of bucks two years of age are generally 150–300 acres in size. Lesser bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age (bucks that lost battles with one or more other bucks) establish ranges 300–600 acres in size. Most dominant breeding bucks (bucks at the top of their buck pecking orders) establish home ranges at least a square-mile (640 acres) in size. Some larger and more aggressive dominant breeding bucks will have home ranges as large as 1000–1300 acres. Ranges of mature bucks generally overlap parts or entire home ranges of other bucks and does, enabling to 3–5 mature bucks, 2–6 yearling bucks, 4-5 mature does, 2-6 yearling does and 4-10 fawns to live in peace within one square-mile (lower numbers are characteristic in wolf country).

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