The Whitetail Deer Rut is Hard on Bucks

Spring is over and early summer is almost upon us, so many hunters are not thinking about deer hunting right now. Not a soul is thinking about the whitetail deer rut that happened six or seven months ago. Whitetail bucks are putting on new antler growth, but many of the bucks that you passed on this past season may never make it to the next one. Testosterone poisoning, a term than many hunters have never even heard of, could be of importance to them now.

Most ranches involved in active deer management programs, are busy with habitat management techniques, filling protein feeders and waiting to burn brush piles, assuming it ever rains. It’s been an awfully dry year thus far and deer habitat is paying the price right now, with habitat conditions as tough as ever. Bucks of average body condition that did not succumb to hunters or post-rut death after the season may now be finding very little to each.

Post Rut Mortality in Bucks: Testosterone Poisoning?

Post-rut, or the period following the white-tailed deer breeding season, is single highest time for natural mortality in adult bucks. Biologist have pointed to the post-rut period as a time when bucks need substantial nutrition. They must replenish depleted calorie reserves and prepare for energy-expensive antler growth. That’s what they should be doing, but the deer rut can take its toll on any buck.

Poor body condition because of running too many does for too long or the lack of food can ultimately cause death in whitetail bucks, but sometimes it is not always that clear. Even properties with good habitat and good whitetail deer management programs in place can lose a few bucks each year. In most cases where adult bucks die after the rut there are many factors at play that cause them to decline and eventually die.

Many believe testosterone may be the cause. Testosterone occurs naturally in bucks and is responsible for antler growth, body changes, breeding behavior and aggression in bucks. Many believe that bucks that die after the rut suffer from testosterone poisoning. In short, a buck’s decreased body condition and elevated testosterone level, loosely referred to as testosterone poisoning, can reduce the ability of it’s own immune system to fight off infection. Testosterone also impacts the decisions that a buck makes, which can ultimately end in death if the bucks fails to heed caution when it is warranted, such as when a predator approaches.

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