A Tough Fight to the Top
Biggest Bucks of the Whitetail Rut
Text and photography by Bill Marchel
As a wildlife photographer, I pursue white-tailed deer year-round. But by far my favorite time to photograph whitetails is during the fall breeding season, the time deer hunters call the rut. That is when big bucks are at their physical peaks, when they are most active and least wary, and when they sometimes even act goofy because procreation is a priority.
On three occasions Ive had a ringside seat at an event seldom seen by humansan all-out battle between two mature bucks. Those buck brawls were no sparring matches between immature deer, which are common occurrences. The nastiest of those buck fights remains the most exciting natural event Ive ever witnessed. That battle between two big bucks lasted 30 minutes, and four antler tines snapped during the brouhaha, which ended in a draw.
Fights between rutting bucks can cause injury or even death. Last November, walking back to my truck following an afternoon of deer photography, I found a dead buck with 10-point antlers, lying at the base of an oak ridge. I presumed the buck had been shot and lost by a hunter, or had staggered into the woods after being struck by an automobile. But as I examined the carcass, I realized my assumptions were incorrect. A quick autopsy revealed numerous puncture wounds through the ribs and into the lungs, apparently inflicted by the tines of an opposing buck. The dead bucks right eye was swollen almost shut, and the skull bone just below the eye socket was shattered where a tine had penetrated. It was the only buck I have ever found that I knew had died from battle.
Bill Marchel, Fort Ripley, is a free-lance wildlife photographer who specializes in noncaptive subjects. For more photographs of the rut, see a copy of the SeptemberOctober 2002 issue. Or visit www.billmarchel.com.