Trail Cam Photos: A Candid Look At Whitetail Breeding Behavior

Like a lot of bowhunters who set out multiple trail cameras every fall, Steve Esker of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, was hoping to catch a glimpse of the heightened deer activity during chasing and breeding portions of the rut, a shot here or there that could help him identify a big buck or gauge the progress of the rut in his area. What he got, when he pulled the card on his Moultrie M-80 in early November, was a remarkable series of 105 photographs that shows a doe standing for two different bucks over a 9-hour period--both times, incredibly, at the same exact spot in front of his trail camera. Esker shared a selection of these photographs with Field & Stream, which provide a rare and fascinating view of the finish to the chase.
The doe first shows up on Esker's trail cam at 1:53 p.m. on November 7th, with a buck hot on her trail.
She mills around the area for a couple of minutes, with the buck shadowing her every move.
Dr. Grant Woods, a Missouri wildlife biologist and host of www.GrowingDeer.tv, says does are generally receptive to bucks for 24 to 36 hours, but bucks will typically spend an additional 8 to 10 hours with a doe before she is receptive. That 8- to 10-hour window when a doe attracts bucks but isn't quite ready to mate is what drives the chase phase of the rut. This time holds the greatest danger of injury for the doe, as aggressive bucks spar with one another and harass the doe before she's ready to stand. "Does are going to 'smell' and 'appear' receptive before they really are," Woods says. "There are different postures and smells going on. And that's why you see these does running, running, running: They're not quite ready. When they are ready, they're going to stand for the buck." The 24- to 36-hour window when a doe is actively breeding drives the lockdown phase of the rut.
At 1:58 the doe stands for the buck.
A minute later, the buck has retreated…
The size of a doe's territory during the rut is largely determined by the type and quality of habitat, Woods says. Two recent GPS studies on this topic yielded almost opposite results: An east coast study that followed does in widely scattered agriculture habitat showed that does moved quite far during the rut; a Texas project that studied deer in that state's largely homogenous habitat showed that rutting does didn't move much at all. Woods says that research has established, time and again, that when a doe is ready to breed she will either move to a part of her home range she rarely uses or make what scientists call a "sojourn" or "excursion" outside of her home range entirely. The reason? "When a doe becomes receptive, she distances herself from her fawns so they won't be injured," Woods says.
For several minutes he keeps close tabs on the doe. Note the buck is missing his left antler. The rut takes a serious toll on whitetail bucks. Besides busting antlers, they can suffer gouges and sometimes infections from fighting. Mature bucks will often try to kill each other during fights. Also, breeding bucks can lose from 10 to 25 percent of their body weight during the rut.
The rut actually takes longer than a lot of hunters think. Does enter estrus at different times and typically it takes about three weeks for all of the does in a give area to cycle through heat.
Woods thinks its possible for does to select bucks to breed with as well as bucks selecting does, depending on herd dynamics. "In traditional herds where the bucks are shot really hard, it's probably the doe selecting the bucks," he says. "In herds where the adult sex-ratio is balanced or even favors bucks, then there is tremendous competition for the buck to get to the doe." Where the breeding takes place is also a combination of doe and buck preference. "They both want the same thing: isolation from other bucks," Woods says. "But this idea that bucks are big studs bringing a harem back to their place, it just doesn't work that way in the whitetail world. They're not elk. They don't have harems. They're just like high school boys, running where they can."
At 2:24 the doe wanders off, the buck still following.
At 7:01 p.m., the buck shows up again on Esker's trail cam, but this time there's no doe in sight.
At 10:50 a second one-racked buck visits the site, this one missing his right antler. "He's broke off on the opposite side of the first buck," Esker notes. "One would wonder if these two met in a battle and snapped each others antlers off. You never know."
Ten minutes later, the doe enters the frame, and the chase begins anew. Esker believes it is the same doe recorded breeding earlier in the day: "This area is so small and in town that I really doubt two does were in heat at the same time in this same spot," Esker says. The photos suggest just how loyal does are to their home turf--and how strongly they can draw bucks to them when the time is right.
A doe often breeds multiple times during the 24- to 36-hour fertile period. Studies show that a minimum of 25 percent of twin fawns have different fathers, proving that these does have bred with at least two bucks, possibly more. Woods says several research studies have shown that bucks breed, on average, 1.1 does per year. The data suggest that the biggest mature bucks don't dominate the rut as much as we used to think. "Everyone says, 'I want to shoot the little deer and let the big deer breed,'" Woods says. "That just doesn't work. So many does come into heat at the same time, and when they are receptive, every buck has a chance."
Woods on the possibility of this doe being the same one that was photographed earlier: "It's possible, but we just don't know. It could be the same doe, because they will breed multiple times for sure. But if a buck is tending a doe, it's very unlikely that he's going to leave that doe while she's still receptive. Unless he got beat up or shot, he's not going to leave her."
At 11:06 p.m., a little more than nine hours after the first breeding photographs, Esker's camera again catches the finish to the chase.

_Like a lot of bowhunters who set out multiple trail cameras every fall, Steve Esker of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, was hoping to catch a glimpse of the heightened deer activity during chasing and breeding portions of the rut, a shot here or there that could help him identify a big buck or gauge the progress of the rut in his area.

What he got, when he pulled the card on his Moultrie M-80 in early November, was a remarkable series of 105 photographs that shows a doe standing for two different bucks over a 9-hour period--both times, incredibly, at the same exact spot in front of his trail camera. Esker shared a selection of these photographs with_ Field & Stream_, which provide a rare and fascinating view of the finish to the chase._