Bleech: Notes From a Buck Fight

Northeast Rut Reporter Mike Bleech has been hunting whitetails in his native Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast for more than four decades. A Vietnam veteran and full-time freelance outdoor writer, Bleech has had more than 5000 of his articles published. States covered: ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA OH, MD, DE.

Cruising around the southern tier of New York late in the evening I spotted a nice buck about 10 yards into a field. Judging from its' thick waist I guessed it to be 4 1/2 years old. The rack was good; not great, but good, maybe 18 inches on the outside of the spread, with nine or ten points.

I had pulled onto the berm and was watching that nice buck through the old and worn 10x28 Bausch & Lomb Discoverer binoculars that I keep in the truck, hanging behind the driver's seat with the strap over the headrest. A movement to the left caught my attention, so I swung the binoculars and saw another buck approaching at the edge of the field. The new arrival was a smaller animal with a narrow 6-point rack. I would wager a dollar to a donut that it was a 1-1/2 year-old buck.

"This could be very entertaining," I said aloud to myself (a result of a lot of time alone in the woods).

As the younger buck approached, the older buck turned sideways as if to impress upon the younger buck its ample dimensions. Just a few yards apart, the younger buck began circling cautiously. Hesitantly, perhaps not wanting the smaller buck to know it cared, the older buck turned to keep from giving the younger buck a clear shot at its hindquarters.

Then the young buck stopped. Both bucks lowered their heads, antlers poised to strike. I found myself breathing heavy from the anticipation of a knock-down, drag-out brawl.

But instead they just brushed the tips of their antlers, showing no apparent aggression. What was happening?

It was easy to imagine that it was father buck giving his son a lesson in fighting; some pointers. But thinking along those lines is personification, applying human characteristics to animals-- things really do not work that way. Thinking that way leads people who are not in touch with the realities of nature to thinking of animals as cute, helpless people.

Thinking more clearly, had dominance already been established? Had they fought before? Was it simply a case of two bucks realizing the obvious, so there was no need for a battle?

Of the numerous occasions when I have witnessed confrontations between bucks during the time frame of fighting, that has usually been the extent of it. Sometimes there might have been brief moments of aggression, but very brief.

Perhaps the reason for these observations has been that rarely have I seen confrontations between evenly matched bucks. The only exception I described in an earlier rut report, on a hillside above the Cheat River, in West Virginia, when a 4-point got the best of a 6-point in a savage, drawn out, terrifying fight that ended with the 4-point driving the 6-point into the ground with its antlers against the rib cage. We witnessed the probable reason for the fight: the 4-point breeding a doe just a few yards from the site of the fight.

Bucks do get very aggressive. If my memory is correct, bucks kill more people than bears do. Three times I have been charged by bucks during the rut, though just once did the buck strike me. I have no doubt that had it persisted it could have killed me. To my great relief, it trotted off after that first strike.

How often savage fights between bucks happen is a mystery. Bucks in enclosures will fight often if given the chance. A friend who had several deer in a large enclosure said he was amazed by how many bucks fought his large bucks through the fence. It was a very sturdy fence, but one of these fights would inflict considerable damage. "I never realized how many big bucks were around here until I got these deer. They must come from all over to fight with my bucks," he said.

But how captive bucks behave is not necessarily how wild bucks behave.

The entire Northeast Region should now be in the time frame for fighting. It is a good time to be watching deer, even if the fights you may be lucky enough to see are short.