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Adirondack bucks: Walking themselves to death?

Do dominant bucks "rut themselves to death" in their quest to locate and breed does during the mating season here in the Adirondacks?

I discussed that question the other day with Jim Westover of Westport, himself a longtime avid hunter. Jim said he recently saw a show on one of the outdoor channels that focused on our deer herd in the Adirondacks.

The premise of the show was that our bucks rarely live past age 4 or 5 and a half or reach their true potential because they are forced to wander great distances to find does to breed - at times traveling upward of 15 miles a day.

"They basically said our bucks walk themselves to death because we don't have the number of deer per square mile that there are in other parts of the country," Jim said. "They said it takes something like nine deer per square mile to keep a buck from roaming."

The video, he said, showed large dominant bucks heading into the winter months completely emaciated from the rut, only to succumb to the elements or predators because they lacked the fat reserves needed to make it through the winter.

I asked Ed Reed, senior wildlife biologist with the DEC in Raybrook, his take on the findings of the show. He said while some of the claims sound plausible, other data may have been sensationalized.

"For instance, how did they determine that a buck needs nine does per square mile to be 'content,'" Reed asked. "Some recent research shows that bucks actually breed with only three to five does each year, and that younger bucks do a significant amount of breeding."

Reed said a 5-and-a-half-year-old buck is considered old anywhere in the northern U.S. and said the Adirondacks may have an even higher percentage of older deer than other areas because they have so many areas to escape hunters.

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