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Do Bucks Get Depressed and Drop Their Guard?

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October 08, 2012

Do Bucks Get Depressed and Drop Their Guard?

By Chad Love

Have you ever wondered how and why those wily, elusive, locally legendary big bucks that always seem to be one step ahead of you and everyone else, end up getting tagged? Maybe that monster buck just woke up disillusioned one day, knowing that his youth was gone. Maybe that buck got depressed, said, "I just don't care any more," and let his guard down.

According to this story on nationalgeographic.com, scientists are studying how and why some animals seem to lose interest in their surroundings.

From the story: 
In the October 5 issue of Science, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Olivier Berton and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed recent studies of rodents, primates, and fish who lacked interest in their environment and their fellow animals. We spoke with Berton about what we do—and don't—know about animal depression.

Do animals get depressed? Depression is diagnosed in humans based on a list of symptoms that are all very subjective. Common core symptoms include feelings of guilt, thoughts of death, and loss of pleasure. Because animals can't communicate even if they have these kinds of experiences, strictly the answer is: We can't say.

What signs may indicate if an animal is depressed? There are certain aspects of the disease that may be measured in animals. One of the core symptoms of depression is anhedonia, the decrease and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. We measure interest in food that animals like a lot or in motivation for sexual activity. We also measure how they are interacting socially with other animals in the group, and changes in sleep patterns and daytime activities. Another behavior that has been used frequently to measure animal depression is whether they readily give up when exposed to a stressful situation.

So there you have it: if you've shot a wallhanger buck that didn't seem to be interested in the does, ignored that lush food plot you grew, avoided fighting the other bucks in the area, and simply moped around the woods regardless of time of day, wind direction or topography, he was probably depressed, suicidal and just hoping to end it all. Which brings up a sticky ethical conundrum: now that you know the signs of a clinically-depressed trophy buck, would you still shoot him? 

Comments (8)

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from maynardtl8 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Yes, because it still falls under the category of fair game and I believe natural selection defines those boudries. If the animal cant do everything to try and guarantee its own survival in the wild, then we, as predators, can exploit the animal's weakness in a fair and sporting manner. No different than killing a wounded animal. So in not so many words, if the buck puts his guard down, then he should expect to get it.

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from blevenson wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Depression, No. A random act by an animal and you happen to be in the right place at the right time, Yes. And yeah if a wallhanger decides to walk by me I would take the shot.

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from LWarren wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Sad deer = dead deer. Ill take him out his misery.

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from weswes088 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Yes, as long as HAS (hunter assisted suicide) is still legal.

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from fisherking1999 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I sure would! Cant prove if he was depressed or not. ALL animals strive to survive.

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from postmodern_barbarian wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I sympathize with *any* creature suffering from clinical depression. I mean, really guys: imagine completely loosing interest in sex, guns (heaven forbid!) and *everything* that you used to enjoy. Been there, done that.

Seriously, though, I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least *some* species of wild animals experience something like depression. But I think it would be very hard to diagnose, and there are plenty of other sicknesses that cause the same symptoms. Finally, treating depression is basically a trial & error process-- hard to do with a wild animal!

If a trophy buck seems listless or lethargic, and presents you with an easy shot, take it. For all you know, the poor critter might not last much longer anyway.

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from Scout79 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

There's a buck where I live, he's an 8pt, big bodied old dude that could be depressed. I'm serious. I've seen him the last two nights and he just looks down. There's definitely something off about him. He looks totally healthy, with no injuries whatsoever. I can drive almost right up to him and he just doesn't care. He slowly makes his way a few feet into the woods with this distant look in his eyes. There are does all over, the other big buck I see around tries to keep tabs on them, but this guy...he could care less. I feel a bad for him to be honest. Initially, I thought he was arthritic, but he showed a little more movement tonight. No one will hunt him here as I live in a park. He's actually been around a few seasons. I guess he'll just have to deal with it. Poor fella.

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from Longbeard wrote 1 year 26 weeks ago

I guess deer could get depressed. Animals certainly have emotions - just look at your dog when you feed, pet, scold him/her. And we've all seen deer playing as fawns, running, jumping, chasing each other. They're definitely feeling good then. But how are you going to be able to tell if that buck is depressed based on a quick look as he walks passed you? Scout79 has had the opportunity to observe that buck he mentioned and may be right. But if a shooter walks in range of my stand, it's going down no matter what it's state of mind is. Survival of the fittest!

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from maynardtl8 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Yes, because it still falls under the category of fair game and I believe natural selection defines those boudries. If the animal cant do everything to try and guarantee its own survival in the wild, then we, as predators, can exploit the animal's weakness in a fair and sporting manner. No different than killing a wounded animal. So in not so many words, if the buck puts his guard down, then he should expect to get it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from weswes088 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Yes, as long as HAS (hunter assisted suicide) is still legal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from blevenson wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Depression, No. A random act by an animal and you happen to be in the right place at the right time, Yes. And yeah if a wallhanger decides to walk by me I would take the shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from LWarren wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

Sad deer = dead deer. Ill take him out his misery.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fisherking1999 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I sure would! Cant prove if he was depressed or not. ALL animals strive to survive.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from postmodern_barbarian wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

I sympathize with *any* creature suffering from clinical depression. I mean, really guys: imagine completely loosing interest in sex, guns (heaven forbid!) and *everything* that you used to enjoy. Been there, done that.

Seriously, though, I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least *some* species of wild animals experience something like depression. But I think it would be very hard to diagnose, and there are plenty of other sicknesses that cause the same symptoms. Finally, treating depression is basically a trial & error process-- hard to do with a wild animal!

If a trophy buck seems listless or lethargic, and presents you with an easy shot, take it. For all you know, the poor critter might not last much longer anyway.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Scout79 wrote 1 year 27 weeks ago

There's a buck where I live, he's an 8pt, big bodied old dude that could be depressed. I'm serious. I've seen him the last two nights and he just looks down. There's definitely something off about him. He looks totally healthy, with no injuries whatsoever. I can drive almost right up to him and he just doesn't care. He slowly makes his way a few feet into the woods with this distant look in his eyes. There are does all over, the other big buck I see around tries to keep tabs on them, but this guy...he could care less. I feel a bad for him to be honest. Initially, I thought he was arthritic, but he showed a little more movement tonight. No one will hunt him here as I live in a park. He's actually been around a few seasons. I guess he'll just have to deal with it. Poor fella.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 26 weeks ago

I guess deer could get depressed. Animals certainly have emotions - just look at your dog when you feed, pet, scold him/her. And we've all seen deer playing as fawns, running, jumping, chasing each other. They're definitely feeling good then. But how are you going to be able to tell if that buck is depressed based on a quick look as he walks passed you? Scout79 has had the opportunity to observe that buck he mentioned and may be right. But if a shooter walks in range of my stand, it's going down no matter what it's state of mind is. Survival of the fittest!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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