The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

December 4, 2013

Fighting Bucks

Check out Doug Domedion's latest column

By Doug Domedion
Medina Journal-Register

MEDINA —

Have you ever witnessed a pair of bucks fighting? Few folks have, but those who have will never forget the explosive action and intense physical force.

More frequently, what is really seen is a sparring match, just a testing of each other. When sparring, the bucks usually turn their heads sideways; it is more of a pushing match, and there seems to be no anger between the bucks. These “testings” are usually done by younger bucks — those in the one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half-year-old classes.

Real fights have tremendous intensity with an all-out effort to hurt or drive the other buck away. Legs are spread wide for leverage and stabilization. The bucks push so hard that they may be forced to their knees and may continue to fight from that position. If one buck gets the upper hand and the loser does not leave quickly, he may get a serious puncture wound from the victor's antlers.

These fights are over dominance and breeding rights, usually between older bucks in the three-and-a-half-year-old class or older. Most of these fights only last for a few minutes, but can last longer if both bucks are equal in size, ability to fight and strength. Eventually, one gets the best of the other and drives him off.

Most times there are not any real serious injuries other than minor punctures and ripped ears, but that is not always the case. If one is knocked off his feet, he may get a life-threatening injury from the other's antlers. I have seen several bucks who received puncture wounds in their jaws or throat area that eventually caused the deer's death.

These fights start when two bucks run across each other and each is trying to claim breeding rights of a doe or a certain area. It usually starts with the bucks staring at each other with ears lain back. They will also walk stiff-legged and eventually stoop with their heads and necks extended while circling each other. They may approach each other directly or by using a sidling walk. The hairs on their backs are raised, making them look larger to their opponent. They will tuck their chins in, showing each other their antlers, and often snort or grunt.

When neither can bluff the other into backing down, there will be a sudden lunge by both from a short distance. The force of this initial contact may be so great that pieces of the antlers could be broken off.

Sometimes the force of this contact is so great that the antlers are sprung apart some what causing the tines and beams to become enmeshed. This can cause the two bucks to get their antlers “locked” together. It is a rare occurrence but gets a lot of publicity when it is discovered because it usually involves two large rack bucks.

If they cannot get separated it may mean the death of both. One buck will eventually weaken enough to die, and then the other is limited by his movement because of the dead deer's weight. He too will die from the exertion of dragging the other buck around. Coyotes may discover these “locked-up” bucks and eventually kill them because they are basically defenseless against them.

Sometimes these bucks are found by someone and an attempt to “unlock” them is made. This is very dangerous, of course, as the well-meaning person may get kicked or jabbed by an antler in the process of getting close to them, and they may get charged when the bucks are freed.

On very rare occasions, a third buck may be attracted by two bucks locked up and get involved with the fight, which may also cause him to get “locked-up” with the first two. This, of course, is even rarer but has been reported.

What a horrible drawn-out thing the death of two ”locked-up” bucks must be. But just like starvation, Mother Nature is not always like Walt Disney portrayed.

I have seen some sparring matches over the years and recently have captured some on my trail cameras. I have actually seen a few instances of this when the bucks were still in velvet, which was surprising to me. However, with all the time I spend in the woods, there has never been a opportunity to see a real fight.

If you have ever witnessed an explosive all-out fight, consider yourself very lucky. It is one of those things that happens very quickly and is seldom seen.