Whitetail Breeding Behavior

Stay at home or leave and roam — which strategy provides the best results for a breeding buck?

Whitetail Breeding Behavior

The rut is as important to whitetails as it is to those who pursue them. It’s a buck’s chance to find an estrus doe and fulfill his purpose in life. Females are in estrus for only about 24 hours, leaving a very narrow window of opportunity for potential suitors.

The rut is important to hunters because it’s our best chance to find a mature buck, or any buck for that matter, moving during daylight hours — often during non-peak hours. Both hunter and hunted are constantly striving to find the most effective strategy to achieve their respective objectives.

Balancing Act

In nature, as in business, it all boils down to what economists call the cost-benefit ratio and biologists refer to as the risk-reward ratio. The more a buck travels, the better his odds of finding a doe. However, increased travel increases energy demands as well as exposure to mortality from predation, hunting and intraspecific competition. The rub, if you’ll pardon the pun, is finding out whether it’s more beneficial to hang around home or go on a walkabout. As is so often the case, it depends on the circumstances.

Bucks can employ one of two strategies to locate a mate. One, alternately referred to as a “Levy walk” or “excursion,” is considered effective when resources are scarce. The other, a “Brownian walk,” involves revisiting the same areas frequently and is more efficient when a resource (in this case, estrus does) is stable.


It turns out that, unsurprisingly, bucks use both. Early in the rut, when estrus does are scarce, bucks must travel farther to find what they seek. During the peak of the rut, their random walks cover much less ground, partly because bucks move very little when they’re with a standing doe and partly because they don’t have to travel as far to find another.


Results from a study by Aaron Foley in Texas found that yearling bucks and mature males were least likely to go on these Levy walks during the peak of the rut. In the case of yearlings, they’re less experienced, generally have smaller home ranges and have less fat reserves. The risks associated with them venturing too far from home are relatively greater.

Mature males, on the other hand, are the most experienced and should know where to find does. As it turned out, they seemed to, as evidenced by their looping, or revisiting the same areas more often.

The situation was somewhat different for 2½-year-old bucks. Turns out, they were more likely to continue with Levy walks through the peak of the rut. Researchers believed this might be due to inexperience at knowing where to find does. It could also partly be the result of increased conflicts with older males tending estrus females. If your objective is a mature buck, peak estrus is probably not the best time to be hunting travel corridors. However, it just might be if all you’re looking for is a decent buck.

This segment of the male deer population shouldn’t be overlooked because, truth be told, it’s the bread and butter of modern deer hunting. The primary goal of most antler restrictions is to protect yearling bucks and increase the number of adult bucks (2½ years of age or older) in the population. In well-managed herds that aren’t over-exploited, sub-mature adult bucks (2½-3½ years old) probably make up the vast majority of the buck harvest.


Be honest. We all claim to be after mature bucks, but would you really pass up a clear shot at a healthy, 140-class 8- or 10-point buck with decent mass and beams outside his ears, even knowing it’s not 4½ years old? Kudos to those who would, but if I’m on day four of a five-day guided hunt or the work is piling up at home, I’m shooting.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Center Shots: How to Improve Your Bow Tuning

Center Shots: How to Improve Your Bow Tuning

Field editor Bill Winke goes over steps you can take to improve the tuning on your bow.

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

"Petersen's Bowhunting" editor Christian Berg and Mathews design engineer Mark Hayes talk the smooth, quiet and fast shooting qualities of the new flagship Vertix bow from the Wisconsin bowmaker.

CenterPoint CP400 Crossbow – First Look

CenterPoint CP400 Crossbow – First Look

CenterPoint Archery evolves in design and performance with the introduction of the new CP400 Crossbow.

Bill Winke

Bill Winke's Top Five Bow Shooting Tips

Petersen's Bowhunting Field Editor Bill Winke give us his top five bow shooting tips

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

We've rounded up the best new compound bows at the 2019 ATA Show. Here are our top picks for the year! ATA Show

Best New Bows for 2019

Tony J. Peterson - January 10, 2019

We've rounded up the best new compound bows at the 2019 ATA Show. Here are our top picks for...

Check out our top picks for the best new mechanical broadheads to debut at the 2019 ATA Show! ATA Show

New Mechanical Broadheads for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 10, 2019

Check out our top picks for the best new mechanical broadheads to debut at the 2019 ATA Show!

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top picks! ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 10, 2019

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top...

We Rank 16 Top Models on Sharpness, Accuracy, Penetration & More


It's that time of year when Arrows & Broadheads

2017 Fixed-Blade Broadhead Test

Jon E. Silks - December 12, 2017

We Rank 16 Top Models on Sharpness, Accuracy, Penetration & More It's that time of year...

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Although Northern whitetails tend to be larger, research shows antler size is directly related to habitat. Whitetail

You Can Grow Big Bucks Anywhere

Dr. Grant Woods

Although Northern whitetails tend to be larger, research shows antler size is directly related...

Food is key to patterning deer — not just any food, but quality food that deer don't associate with danger. Whitetail

Fear Factor: Deer Choose Safety over Food

Dr. Grant Woods

Food is key to patterning deer — not just any food, but quality food that deer don't associate...

Small waters in the big woods can be a hotspot for tagging mature whitetails. Whitetail

How to Hunt Creek Bottoms for Big Bucks

Beau Martonik

Small waters in the big woods can be a hotspot for tagging mature whitetails.

Properly managing your doe harvest each year will ensure the healthiest herd on your whitetail property. Whitetail

When to Shoot Does on Your Whitetail Property

Dr. Grant Woods

Properly managing your doe harvest each year will ensure the healthiest herd on your whitetail...

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now