Pre-rut sparring


White-tailed bucks experience rising levels of testosterone in the fall and this leads to the rut, a gathering in November where bucks challenge one another for access to does. 

I have not witnessed the head butting and mating of the rut, but this last week, I was fortune to be able to watch some pre-rut sparring. Three bucks were congenially grazing together in the rain. There were no does to be seen. Yet, their rising testosterone was urging them to spar and they did, after which they just returned to grazing.

These were a mismatched three. There was an adult buck with four-points on each antler, along with one-spike and two-spike yearlings. But, fitness is irrelevant when grazing.

The sparring started when the two-spike youngster challenged the one-spike youngster. The contest just fizzled.

Then the youngster challenged the adult. It was a clash with butting and head twisting, but the adult appeared to be gentle with his young challenger.

They went at it a couple of times, with the adult seemingly reluctant to put much effort into the contest.

“Well, what did you expect me to do? He’s a youngster.”


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9 Responses to Pre-rut sparring

  1. Jack Harrison says:

    OK Alistair…this time you stopped me in my tracks. What a wonderful escape this was from the concerns of the world. Very sweet and as usual so well photographed. I felt I was there.
    Have you taken videos with sound on some of your photo shoots. The image of Pop teaching his young buck how to “get the gal of your dreams” resonated with me at an elemental level!

    Bless you Alistair

  2. Trevor Goward says:

    Beautiful Alistair, simply beautiful!

  3. birthe says:

    Thank you Alistair, lovely photos as usual, and great comments

  4. Kabir McKinnon says:

    We often hear the sparring outside our bedroom window at night, but have never witnessed it in the daytime. I’m most grateful for your images.

  5. Della C. Fenkner says:

    I chortled! Thank you for your keen eye and storytelling. Loved it.

  6. Willow Wolf says:

    These photos are fabulous! I hear the deer doing this play-rutting at night when I’m in bed. We have a big field outside our bedroom window and they are frequently there. The activity is, as you say, not long lasting. I can rarely see them in the dark, but one morning I saw 4 bucks and a big doe in the dim light. They looked a lot like this batch, one more mature buck and a couple young ones. It seemed obvious who was in charge. It is fantastic to see their eyes in your pictures and to realize how very vulnerable their eyes are in this exchange with each other. Yikes! Thank you so much for these very intimate images!

    • Alistair says:

      Willow, during head butting, the deer’s eyes were not always open. But, when they are, it isn’t clear how much they see anyway. A deer’s vision is primarily confined to a horizontal strip when the head is upright. So, each may not actually see much of the other during the head butting for the other deer is likely off the top of their vision.

  7. Gail Frampton says:

    great pictures and story! Thanks!

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