A few years back on a property I hunt was a bully of a spike buck I called Napoleon Bonaparte. The rascal would run decent bucks out of the area. I have trail cam photos of him, and saw/heard him from a stand a few times. He would snort, grunt and chase the other bucks...and some of them were wide racked older deer. At first I thought he was rutting behind does. Nope. He was just a bully. Here's
Shooting Napoleon and other junkyard bucks
Some of us have a tendency to anthropomorphize when it comes to deer hunting as we try to make sense of the behavioral rhythms of the mysterious whitetail.
Anthropomorphize is a long word for those moments when we define our experiences by placing human feelings and emotions on animal actions.
These days it's fashionable to believe that animals have thoughts and feelings as we humans do. The Disney/Pixar universe of cartoons has helped turn fantasy into reality for the multitudes.
Let me elaborate.
In order to attract deer, specifically bucks to a couple of small hunting properties, I came up with a new idea. Well, kind of new, but only in the application.
By studying and musing about other ungulates and their breeding patterns, all with an eye on understanding whitetails, the concept of the lek kept surfacing.
A lek is a very short word for a complex set of male pre-mating behaviors at a special or particular place or locus. What does a lek have to do with whitetail scrape making?
After having experimented with whitetail scrapes and mobile licking branches for many years (since 2007) and mock scrapes for many years before that, I attempted to create a "whitetail lek.' By physically moving overhanging branches from scrapes outside the specific area and zip-tying them to a number of trees and branches on a small hunting property this season.
This experiment would endeavor to create a huge vortex of buck and doe breeding pheromones on the licking branches, and all natural. Theoretically, bucks and does from all over the area would be drawn in like honey bees to a full bloom clover plot.
I tried my best to overwhelm the specific bucks and does on my two small properties with scent from a multitude of scrapes and licking branches from surrounding towns all over the southern part of my county.
This attempt at creating an artificial whitetail lek worked surprisingly well to say the least, as far as attracting bucks and does during the daytime and of course, mostly at night to this hotspot. Truly, the scrape cluster received an amazing amount of attention, all duly recorded on a series of trail cameras. And it was the gift that kept giving. As more and more bucks and does came in, leaving their scent, it exponentially increased the whitetail traffic.
That is, it seemed to work well until a behavioral glitch or trait manifested itself.
And this is where the anthropomorphizing comes in.
The whitetail lek, that inordinately held so much attraction for both bucks and does, and if I may say so, unnaturally and unforeseen, tended to concentrate wild whitetails into these two hunting properties... into small areas. And as with human beings, the most aggressive, pugnacious, and confrontational tended to take over.
In both cases the culprits, the perps that disrupted the plan were 2.5 year-old, (or possibly older) spike and fork-horn bucks.
It may seem counterintuitive in the whitetail world, but sometimes the smaller package wins.
Two spike bucks, and one four-pointer, were meaner than junkyard dogs.
As soon as another buck came into the scrape cluster or lek, no matter the size, the spikes would attack and drive the newcomer away.
And those driven away were sometimes dandy six and eight pointers!
These larger racked bucks were evidently lovers not fighters.
How can this be? We have always been led to believe the buck with the larger rack is always the superior animal. But like they say, "it ain't the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog."
Whitetail researchers continually note that smaller and younger, more bold and feisty bucks drive older, larger racked animals away when the rut is on. The smaller buck actually dominates the larger bucks at times. And new DNA studies confirm that spike bucks are fathering as many as 25% of the fawns!
So what do we do about these "junkyard bucks?" Well, I came to the conclusion to shoot them and allow the six- and eight-pointers to live another day.
Studies have born out the fact that spikes and forks as 2.5 year olds will grow decent racks in time.
But, it is hard to argue that a 2.5 year-old eight point may be a finer animal to let live to go on and create a much better specimen the following year. Since one of them is going in the freezer, and I already have a garage wall full of small eight pointers, the big mean spike I called Napoleon, took the permanent dirt nap.
Of course the reason he was called Napoleon was because of his willingness to fight despite his stature. Most of us probably have known people who enjoy fighting. I remember an old friend of mine back in the day who couldn't wait to pick a barroom fight with bigger guys, no matter how large or tough. A little liquid fuel only fired him up more. We define these spike's behavioral syndrome as "the Napoleon Complex."
But in reality, the bottom line to all this is, if you want to keep good bucks around your hunting property, make sure that you do not implement the simplistic notion that all spike and fork horns should be passed up because in fact some, may be "Napoleons" and are driving your shyer, bigger racked bucks away.
And in conclusion, passing on feisty sub-par racked bucks may be one more reason why we are not seeing the bucks we expect and one more reason to save the little eight-pointer for another day next season by putting a tag on your Napoleon.
Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY