April 15, 2010
Hurteau: Do Bucks Have Personalities?
By Dave Hurteau
There’s a friendly battle that goes on between whitetail experts and writers who interview them. We, the writers, want concrete answers and hard, fast rules—because these make for better headlines: “5 Ways Big Bucks Are Different” or “3 Secret Surefire Strategies.” On the flip side, experts tend to start every answer with, “Well, it depends. . . .” And they’re not just covering their @$$-S. That is to say, they are covering their @$$-s, but that’s not all they’re doing. More and more, part of what seems to be behind this waffling is an increasingly popular notion that whitetail bucks are individuals with individual—brace yourself—personalities.
Now, I think it’s fair to say that hunters have historically cringed at anything smacking of anthropomorphism. And the word “personality,” when applied to an animal, seems to smack pretty hard. Yet I increasingly hear it applied to big bucks by people who know big bucks best. Then I read this form The New York Times:
Scientists studying animals from virtually every niche of the bestial kingdom have found evidence of distinctive personalities — bundled sets of behaviors, quirks, preferences and pet peeves that remain stable over time and across settings. They have found stylistic diversity in chimpanzees, monkeys, barnacle geese, farm minks, blue tits and great tits, bighorn sheep, dumpling squid, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra finches, spotted hyenas, even spiders and water striders, to name but a few. They have identified hotheads and tiptoers, schmoozers and loners, divas, dullards and fearless explorers, and they have learned that animals, like us, often cling to the same personality for the bulk of their lives….
Some critics complain that the term “animal personality”… smacks of that dread golem of biology, anthropomorphism — assigning human traits to nonhuman beings. Researchers in the field, however, defend their lingo and tactics. “Some of the behavior patterns we’re talking about are similar to what we call personality in human psychology literature,” said Max Wolf of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “So why not call it personality in other animals?”
Alison M. Bell of the University of Illinois at Urbana, who studies personality in stickleback fish, said: “We’re not being cute and anecdotal, we’re looking at consistent differences in behavior that we can test and measure.”
In other words, the experts who say bucks have individual personalities seem to have some science on their side.
So, what do you think? You all have lots of anecdotal evidence. Do whitetails have personalities? Are bucks innately bold or shy, does demure or sassy? Does assigning them those traits smack too much of anthropomorphism? h