By Tommy & Marie Kirkland
Photos by Tommy Kirkland
Heat and humidity reminds us that the days of summer are here. The deer hunting gear is stored away for now. Yet the whitetails we pursue are concealed within the woods, engaged in obtaining nutrition, establishing social order, and growing velvet racks.
It's a hot muggy day in the deer woods. Here, bedded to escape the sun's intense heat are four bucks in velvet. Along with chewing cud, their only movement is the occasional flapping of ears and head motion to ward off nuisance insects and horseflies. All are positioned within close proximity of each other in their bedding sites. Using the coolness and concealment of the shaded woods, the bucks spend the late morning and afternoon exerting very little energy on this sultry day.
As the afternoon progresses, one buck rises. After briefly grooming, it heads out of the woods into a small clearing of grasses and forbs. The lone buck browses bush clover and other vegetation. In the meantime, two stout stags and a smaller buck remain under the canopy. Eventually all venture out of the woods to feed.
The clouds build and soon a steady downpour dampens the landscape. With all the moist vegetation, the bucks continue browsing the woodland edge as the sun dips below the horizon.
Though we may not give it much thought, the summer season is a vital period for the development of white-tailed bucks. As food plots are tended to supplement the animals' native diet, the deer are physically preparing for the upcoming rut.
Unlike the rigors of the mating season where male deer turn into rivals competing for does in estrus, summer brings more tranquil times in white-tailed buck behavior. Although some remain solitary, bucks typically form bachelor groups - bedding together, foraging, and grooming each other from parasites in their home ranges. Physical contact in this "buddy system" is minimal and usually non-threatening because the males have to protect their sensitive velvet antlers from injury. Bucks form groups for various reasons, usually to establish a hierarchical system and also to serve as protection from predators.
In the early morning, late afternoon, and evening hours, white-tailed bucks can be seen foraging in bachelor groups. Here, social hierarchy continues to be established as the male deer size each other up - mostly with non-physical contact through a host of body posturing.
The bucks are very protective of their growing antlers as they browse diverse vegetation. This bountiful nutrition is vital for proper antler maturity. Although genetics play a major role in the formation of a buck's rack, without the essentials of protein, vitamins, and minerals along with the opportunity to bed and rest, whitetails will not reach their fullest growth potential.
Carnivorous predators roaming the land, particularly coyotes and northern wolves, can induce stress on antler growth if the canines are persistently running the deer - especially at night. When this occurs, bucks have to expend more energy, which in turn causes them to burn calories and can influence antler growth. Yet, by forming these bachelor groups, bucks of all ages increase their chances of fast evasiveness from predators as more ears, noses, and eyes are at work.
All in all, bachelor grouping in the summer season is a time of slow motion for the antlered ruminants. It is when energy is conserved. With proper nutrition, antlers grow rapidly, reaching full maturity by July and August in preparation for velvet shedding and the crazies of the rut. Although the oppressive temperatures linger, every hunter's anticipation of opening day awaits!