Are Big Bucks Really Different?

Scott Bestul |

They’re also rare; the percentage of truly mature whitetails in a given herd can be frighteningly low. And they can also be maddening; they do this when we think they should do that. So we attribute that frustrating behavior to an old buck being “smart” or “wise”.

But are they smart, really?

I could easily argue that big deer aren’t that smart…At least “smart” as we define human intelligence. The fact that they move less is pretty simple to explain; big deer are old, and old deer are lazy. Plus, research has proven that, as a buck ages, his home range shrinks, sometimes drastically. So a hunter has an automatic challenge; get on a deer that doesn’t walk around much, and when he does so, it’s in a very small area. Finally, mature bucks are given much credit for smarts because they live in odd places and move mostly at night….But in my opinion, these evasive maneuvers are little more than a stimulus-response reaction. If a buck encounters people every time he walks a hardwood ridge, but almost never sees a man if he lives in a cattail swamp, where’s he going to spend most of his time? The same is true of daylight movement.

So it’s easy to make the argument that big deer are little different than young deer. They eat, sleep, drink, walk and breed….Just like every other deer in the herd.

But here’s the thing: Big bucks are different in a few critical ways. First, they trust their senses completely. Young deer can get a little whiff of human (or other) odor and still proceed on a path. Big deer almost always trust their nose, eyes and ears. Second, big bucks take their time, and that includes everything from traveling to eat to pursuing a doe; when you move slowly, you drastically cut the chances of making a mistake.

And finally, some folks feel that old bucks have something—A sixth sense? Really good luck?—that other deer don’t. I’ve had some all-in-fun arguments with other hunters about this topic. Many feel that old bucks have an ability to detect danger that’s almost eerie. Others think they’re just damn lucky. And a handful feel all of this is hogwash; big deer are just like any other deer, just older.

Me? Well, I agree with all three viewpoints. Big old whitetails are just like every other deer, except they’re older, luckier and probably eerily safety-conscious after a lifetime of being chased. But mainly, I just think they’re fascinating…And I’m kinda glad they’re not easy to kill.


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