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From the December 2007 Conservationist

bucks sparring

Photo: iStock

You Lookin' at Me

By David Nelson

In late summer, whitetail bucks remove velvet from their antlers by rubbing them on bushes and small trees. Once their antlers have "hardened off," bucks will challenge each other in ritualized wrestling matches called "sparring."

Unlike rams who charge each other in headlong rushes, bucks will carefully intertwine their antlers first, then begin to push and shove to determine who is stronger.

If antlers come apart, the bucks will often pause, re-align their antlers, and begin anew in an almost courteous fashion.

When does are in heat, sparring becomes much more serious. Aggressive activity increases as mature bucks fend off any would-be competitors. A subordinate buck will usually turn away. If he does not, fights can be intense, involving great strength and neck twisting. Given enough force, this twisting will sometimes result in a broken antler tine.

Antlers can be splayed out slightly by the two bucks pushing against each other, only to spring back when one or both deer relaxes and releases the tension.

Occasionally this results in the antlers locking together, which can doom both bucks to exhaustion and inability to eat or drink, and eventual death. If you happen upon two or more whitetail bucks occupying the same field or patch of ground after Labor Day, watch closely. Consider yourself lucky if you ever witness whitetail bucks challenging each other in this time-tested manner to determine social hierarchy.

David Nelson is editor of Conservationist.