Mike: A friend and I are obsessed w/shed hunting in Wisconsin and Minnesota. One year we found 2 sets that score 150+ and another half that came from a buck that would have been in the 170 to 180 range. These 5 sheds were found in a straight line from one another heading north to south from a cedar swamp to a ridge/valley habitat. We looked for days, but there was no sign of smaller bucks in the area.
The large sheds we found were all distinctively similar–they look like grandfather, father, son and so on, with high brow tines and G2s and impressive main beams. This is probably due to genes in the area, but the odd thing is that once we get out of that vicinity, the antler type changes dramatically.
So my questions are: Is it possible for a herd of whitetails to have only one gene line, with all the deer closely related? Could the big bucks be marking their territory with their sheds? Could the larger bucks have a different late-season pattern then smaller ones? Thanks, Cole
Cole, I ran your great questions by whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson, who says:
It is unlikely for neighboring bucks to be related because of dispersal behavior. On average 70-90% of buck fawns and yearling bucks disperse 5-10 miles from their natal range, where they then set up a new and unique home range where they likely remain for the rest of their lives.
However, in northern areas where winter migrations to yards are 5 miles or more, related bucks may end up in the same yard during winter. Therefore, in the north it is possible (but still not likely) to find shed antlers from closely related bucks in the same yard.
I doubt that bucks are able to “select” the timing or location of their antler shedding. Instead, antlers are shed when testosterone levels go below a threshold level and they simply fall off a buck’s head wherever. Therefore, bucks do not mark their territory with their shed antlers.
Body and antler size are closely correlated to age, so larger bucks are typically the older bucks. On average, older bucks have smaller home ranges and are less active than younger bucks, so yes, there are often different late-season patterns.
Great info for you shed hunters!
Very informative. I love how you tied in the Northern yarding behavior with related bucks possibly ending up in the same areas in late winter. I live and hunt in what is, for all practical purposes, the very southern portion of “the north”. In colder, harsher winters with deep snows our deer do “yard” up in somewhat predictable areas. Although I don’t live in the Boreal Forest habitat, the deer I hunt are Northern Woodlands whitetails, and act accordingly. Neat stuff!
Do bucks mark their territories with shed antlers? I don’t think so either. My contention would be that bucks don’t even know what their own antlers look like, how would they? Do they look at their reflections in the water? Highly unlikely. I’ve seen some film of deer shedding their antlers and they don’t seem to look or care about them once they hit the ground.