The Rut: When Bucks Lock Antlers and Fight for Mates
Every fall, male deer, or bucks, engage in a fierce competition for the right to mate with females, or does. This competition involves fighting with their antlers, which are bony growths on their heads that shed and regrow every year. Antlers are used as weapons and symbols of strength and dominance among bucks. But sometimes, these fights can end up in a rare and dangerous situation: bucks locking antlers and getting stuck together.
How and Why Do Bucks Lock Antlers?
Bucks lock antlers when their antlers interlock in such a way that they cannot pull apart. This can happen during intense fights, especially when a doe in heat is nearby. The shape and size of the antlers, as well as the angle and force of the impact, can influence the likelihood of getting locked up.
Bucks fight by circling each other and drawing closer together. They then bend their hind legs, lower their heads and charge. The antlers are designed to provide a groove for another buck’s antlers to lock into place on another male’s. The bucks then push and twist each other until one gives up or breaks free.
Bucks start fighting once they shed their velvet, which is a soft tissue that covers their antlers during the summer. As they shed their velvet, their testosterone levels rise and they become more aggressive and territorial. The peak of the fighting season is during the rut, which is the breeding season for deer. During this time, bucks are driven by the urge to breed and will fight more frequently and intensely, especially when a doe in heat is nearby.
What Are the Outcomes of Bucks Locking Antlers?
Bucks locking antlers can have different outcomes depending on the situation. Sometimes, they can struggle for a while and break loose. Other times, they can stay locked up for hours or even days. This can have serious consequences for the deer involved.
When bucks are locked up, they become vulnerable to exhaustion, starvation, dehydration, predation, and injury. They cannot forage, drink, rest, or defend themselves from other animals or hunters. They can also injure each other by goring or kicking while fighting.
Often, one or both bucks die from being locked up. The most common cause of death is exhaustion and starvation. Another cause of death is predation by coyotes, wolves, bears, or other predators that can take advantage of the helpless deer. Sometimes, one of the bucks gets gored or stabbed by the other’s antlers while fighting.
However, there are also cases where hunters or wildlife officers find locked-up bucks and decide to save them instead of shooting them. This usually involves using tools like saws or grinders to cut off part of their antlers and free them. This can be risky and dangerous for both the deer and the rescuers, but it can also be rewarding and humane.
How Common Is It for Bucks to Lock Antlers?
Bucks locking antlers is a rare phenomenon that does not happen very often. According to Alan Cain, Whitetail Deer Program Leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, most fights do not result in locked-up bucks, which he calls “a pretty rare occurrence.” Instead, most deer escape the encounters relatively unscathed.
However, there are some factors that can increase the chances of bucks locking antlers. One factor is the quality of the habitat and food sources. If there is abundant food and cover for deer, there will be more deer in an area and more competition for mates. Another factor is the genetics of the deer population. If there are more bucks with similar-sized antlers in an area, there will be more evenly matched fights that can result in locking up.
Bucks locking antlers is a fascinating phenomenon that showcases the power and beauty of nature. It also reveals the challenges and dangers that deer face during the rut. While it can be tragic and fatal for some deer, it can also be an opportunity for conservation and compassion for others.