In breeding season, a rival offers no mercy

Nov 24 2010 - 1:14pm

DALLAS -- To the uninitiated, white-tailed deer may seem like gentle woodland creatures, but there's nothing gentle about mature bucks during breeding season. No-holds-barred fights for dominance are commonplace in the world of whitetails.

Even so, Will Pitts of Austin, Texas, witnessed what seemed like an unusual display of brutality on Nov. 6.

It was just getting light enough to see when Pitts stopped his truck on a high spot overlooking a 100-acre Panhandle wheat field. Deer were starting to trickle out of the exposed field, heading back to cover along the Canadian River, and Pitts was studying bucks through his binoculars. One big-bodied, mature buck in particular got his attention.

It wasn't light enough to make out all the buck's tines, but Pitts could see that the deer had outstanding beams and long points. As the deer walked away, Pitts turned his attention to other bucks. About the time he could see clearly, the hunter again located the big buck nearer the river. He was standing next to a willow tree, his head stretched way up in the tree as if rubbing his facial glands. The deer was about 700 yards from Pitts.

"I watched him for two or three minutes," Pitts said. "The deer was a long way from me, but I could see that his front feet were up on the tree. I finally realized that the buck had hung up his antlers in the tree and could not get loose."

Thinking the deer would surely figure out how to free himself, Pitts watched for 20 minutes. He was about to call his hunting partner, Worth Steward, who was hunting on a different part of the ranch, and ask him to bring a chain saw so they could try to cut the deer loose. Then he noticed three other bucks approaching the distressed deer.

Two of the bucks were obviously immature, but the third deer was a big eight- or nine-pointer with wide antlers. Seeing his rival vulnerable, the wide-antlered buck adopted an aggressive posture and walked completely around the trapped deer, as if sizing up the situation, then abruptly gored the trapped buck from behind, lifting him completely off the ground.

It was a very still morning, and Pitts could hear the injured buck bellow. The aggressor proceeded to ram his antlers into his defenseless rival twice more, one low blow that essentially gutted the buck and another blow behind the shoulder. Even at a distance, Pitts could see blood coating the aggressor's antlers. The deer then walked away as if nothing had happened.

A postmortem revealed that the fatal blow had punctured the defenseless deer's liver, saving him from a slow and more painful death from the intestinal wound. After checking with game wardens, the hunters tagged the buck, which they plan to have mounted with a re-creation of the tree that proved his downfall.

"The tips of this buck's antler beams come very close together, which made it harder from him to get free," Pitts said

. "There was a small stump on the right side of the willow where he was hung up that kept the deer from moving himself to the right, where he could more easily have gotten loose. I've done a lot of deer hunting, but I've never seen anything like that."


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