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Where'd My Dominant Buck Go?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: I have been using trail cameras to help me keep track of a big buck I missed the last day of hunting season last year. No luck finding him so far.

Do you have any suggestions on where to find him? Do big, dominant bucks move from territory to territory? - Scotty H. of Jenkinsville, SC

Where'd My Dominant Buck Go?ANSWER: As for your first question, I can offer several suggestions.

First, unless you are absolutely, 100 percent certain you missed, you might start by scouring the ground within 300-400 yards of your stand. If you're certain it was a clean miss, the next place I'd look is the neighbors.

If you know them well enough, bring along a trail cam photo and ask if they saw or killed the buck last year.

If all that fails, don't give up hope.

As for the second question, let's start by clarifying a couple of things.

First, forget the notion of a "dominant buck" as it tends to be misunderstood and over-simplistic.

Second, deer don't have territories. They have home ranges. A home range is a geographic area in which an animal spends the majority of their time. A territory is a piece of ground that is actively defended by its owner/occupant - territoriality.

Numerous studies on buck movement over the years have demonstrated certain generalities. One is yearling dispersal.

Most bucks tend to disperse from their natal home range (where they were born) within their first year and a half of life. The mechanism is not clearly understood. The common theory is their mother has run them off or older bucks have forced them out. However, at least one study showed bucks orphaned as fawns in their first fall are more likely to remain in their mother's home range as adults.

The older a buck gets, the less likely he is going to leave his home range, at least for any considerably length of time.

Outside the rut, most bucks stay put, spending most of their time in less than 30 or 40 percent of the their annual home range.

During the rut, they may make short excursions, sometimes traveling considerable distances from their core areas, and even outside their home range. These excursions typically last 24-48 hours, then the bucks return.

However, deer, like humans are individuals. Rarely, even an older deer will leave its home range for an extended period.

It's also possible the buck you're looking for has simply shifted slightly within its home range to an area where you don't have cameras.

Another, less encouraging possibility is that it died of natural causes.

You cannot stockpile bucks. No matter how good your ground, how little hunting pressure there is and how conscientious you are about letting young bucks walk, a certain proportion of older deer will die each year.

Some will succumb to predation, others to disease. And if they become too abundant, they'll kill each other while competing for does.

It is entirely possible your "dominant" buck met a more dominant buck, and got his a$$ kicked.

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