Missoula’s Bucks are Ready to Rumble

By PAUL QUENEAU

A tension is mounting around Missoula.

Look any direction from town and you may likely see gangs of mule and whitetail deer bucks growing increasingly at odds. Turbulent. Agitated. A month ago they were bosom-buddies, inseparable posses lounging and grazing together, a model of peace among men.

But October is upon us, and if you keep an eye to the open spaces, you’ll see groups of bucks joining antlers and sparring, testing strength and balance, and establishing a pecking order before love takes to the wind of November’s mating season.

These bachelor herds will split in calamitous fashion over the next few weeks. Big bucks will suddenly get deadly serious in their sparring, the summer brotherhood officially broken. In the process, antlers may snap off, some may lose an eye, orworse.

Last year on the morning of October 20, I was startled to find a tight-knit group of five whitetail bucks that I’d watched, filmed, and photographed east of town for months were suddenly split up. Caput. Gone their separate ways.

I followed and photographed the largest-antlered of the group as he made his way across the mountainside. He then ran into one of his former group and the two immediately locked antlers, twisting and thrashing with all the might their 250-pound frames could muster. The larger-antler buck eventually relented, much to my surprise, turning and sprinting as the other buck tried to pin histail.

Minutes later, the big buck fought another rival who also managed to out-aggress him. I never saw that deer on the mountain again that fall. He’d sought kinder pastures elsewhere, but a friend found his shed back on the mountain this spring.

So as you go about your mornings and evenings, grab your coffee and your binoculars and take stock of the spectacle all around us. It will only increase in intensity until the breeding season reaches its zenith in mid- to late-November.

It is a treat to behold.

 

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Paul Queneau is an avid outdoor recreationist, naturalist and hunter. He works as conservation editor of Bugle magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he writes about, photographs, edits and films wildlife. See and read more of his work on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website and Paul’s photo portfolio.