In this earlier post, I described how everything I thought was true about getting big bucks in our area was outdated. It took a while for me to figure out that if I wanted to get big whitetail bucks in my area, I was going to have to just forget everything I had trusted in and rethink my approach. Let’s talk about whitetail buck breeding and what, if anything, we can do to help get more big bucks in our area.
Mature Bucks and the Rut
Every hunter dreams of the “rut”. A time when the woods are full of mature bucks looking for does for breeding. This may be the only time during the hunting season that a mature buck is on his feet in the daylight – it can be a truly magical time to be in the woods.
Many hunters across the US have the misconception only the mature bucks do the breeding and those lower on the pecking order do not have an opportunity to breed. Therefore, if you let a few bigger bucks live another year, he will increase the quality of bucks across your hunting area.
My field experience over the years have shown several of the mature bucks I have seen were with does that were clearly getting ready to go into heat. They chased off other suitors and even battled a few.
Those observations told me mature bucks would fight off younger bucks or other mature bucks to win the day with that doe. Therefore, I and many others concluded the big bucks breed the majority of the does in a given area.
However, according to the research from the MSU Deer Lab team, this is just not the case.
So, Who Really Does the Breeding?
According to the Mississippi State University, who covered the topic in their Sept 2017 Podcast URL, in the woods, mature bucks (3 ½ and older) successfully breed about 30% of the does. So, if only 30% of the does are breed by mature bucks, who is doing the rest of it?
The other 60% of the does were breed by 2 ½ or younger bucks. Meaning that at some point in the estrous cycle of the doe, a younger buck was able to breed her successfully and she birthed their offspring. This fact does make sense based on the numbers.
In our region, there is an imbalance in the buck to doe ratio which is further skewed when you consider the mature buck to doe ratio. If a mature buck chases and finally breeds a doe over a 3-4 day period, and a doe stays in estrous for 7-10 days, then he will only breed two or three does.
If the doe comes back into heat in 28-30 days, he may breed another two or three females. Those numbers put his successful encounters at around 4-6 per year and with a ratio of 10-12 does to a mature buck, it still leaves 6-8 does for other bucks to breed.
Additionally, and maybe most importantly, the doe’s genes get a vote in the offspring as well. She may have the worst antler growth genes in the deer woods.
Your Wildlife Management Plan
What does this mean for you if your wildlife management plan is focused on growing larger bucks? Nothing, if you have a high fence property where you can turn out one buck with one doe and control all the variables.
If you are like us and have free ranging whitetails, then the odds of you growing a herd of awesome monster bucks is slim. The best option is to invest your time into providing the best habitat you can and improve the overall quality of the deer herd.
When you see a nice 6 or 8 point that is a regular on your property, let him grow another year or two and you will likely have a nice mature buck. Or you may create the haven for a great doe herd and have mature bucks visiting your property throughout the rut to check out all the girls.
Again, success with free range, fair chase whitetails come down to quality habitat.
What To Do About These Whitetail Myths
The myths have merit, just not to the extent everyone believes or places on the practices.
The reality is that we, except in very few cases, can’t control all the variables with a wild whitetail herd.
The one factor we can control is the habitat and that is the essential element to having whitetail success in your hunting camp and provides the year around enjoyment many outdoors enthusiasts are seeking.
Now, let’s discuss culling as a wildlife management practice.