Where do the yearlings go?


Active Member
So I’m sitting in the woods staring at trees, wondering where all of last year’s bucks disappeared to. Every year I get about 10 yearling bucks running around at the end of the season, but I never seem to have more than a couple 2 year old bucks return.
What do you think is happening? I know I’m not losing 80% of the bucks to winter each year...
Natures way, they are leaving their mothers home territory. This is so they do not end up breeding sisters, etc...

I figured that these yearlings I see have already been kicked out by the does, they usually form a bachelor group every December
2 year olds are just harder to see. They are smarter and better at avoiding you. How do you know they aren’t there? How many cameras do you have?
2 year olds are just harder to see. They are smarter and better at avoiding you. How do you know they aren’t there? How many cameras do you have?

That’s a good point. I’ve got 4 cameras on 80 acres. I’m just surprised that I don’t see more of them
I see more at the beginning of the season and by the end they are shot dead on or lying by the highway. Some of the ones seen during he season are no doubt just passing through and have settled into a range yet.
I had 7 bucks within 150 yards last week. None of them walked by my trail cam that morning and not a single picture of the two 8 points I saw that morning at all. Trail cams definitely don’t capture all the action.

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You are so right ! Several times I've had deer in front of the camera when I was present and little to no pics resulted. My Brownings seem to capture more pics than my Bushnells do.

Buck dispersal is the term that biologists use Chip. I see it also, and like Okie said, it's nature's way of preventing inbreeding.
Natures way, they are leaving their mothers home territory. This is so they do not end up breeding sisters, etc...
Yeah, but the yearlings on adjacent areas should be relocating to areas where other yearlings have vacated. In other words, My yearlings leave, but other new ones should show up. But why is it I always seem to be on the loosing end of the equation? Seems like every year, I lose more than I gain. I guess it just life in this part of PA. Way too much hunting pressure on tiny properties. Actually, between all the road kill and the brown-down-clowns, I'm surprised we have any leftover bucks.
I went back and compared last year’s photos to this year’s local harvests, and I think I matched a few yearlings to a few 2 1/2 year old bucks taken around me.
So basically I’m concluding that these bucks just shrink or move their home range a bit, along with becoming wiser.
Also went back and counted the yearlings I’ve got on camera right now, and there’s 9 of them (and just one 2 1/2 YO). Hope to see them in the future

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As a biologist, I have been studying whitetail deer for close to a half-century. Most of what they do is not complicated. When it comes dispersal and movement, so many factors are involved, it can become complicated. The loss of habitat, an ever increasing factor now skewes most logical thinking. But to over simplify, a deer will move no farther than is required to find food, water and cover. During the rut, the range of movement widens and some of the deer who venture into new territory, stay. Water is a minor factor. Dispersal is a different matter. Population dynamics, plays a major role.

Dispersal is simply the running off of bucks past 1-yr of age by the matriarch of the family unit. These bucks usually, then, attach to another family unit at varied distances. However, here is a factor most overlook. Once a buck reaches 3.5-years of age, he is most likely to die of something other than a hunter. In short, he becomes less visible. This does not mean he has gone, anywhere. But, he has no defined, home range. He will have a core area, but he is not "territorial". he will move as far as he has to to find, food, water, cover and for a period, a receptive doe. The concept of "family unit" becomes one of "bachelor group". The dynamics within these two nuclei is sometimes stagnant and sometimes ever-changing. In northern areas, where snow is a major factor and deer "yard-up", it can be even more complicated.DSC_0033.JPG

The use of trail camera photos can be extremely helpful. It can also be extremely misleading. This is true, simply because the camera covers such a narrow field of view. My research with mock scrapes and rubs taught me more about whitetail behavior than any other factor. It turned what were previously regarded as hard facts into pure myths.

The herd in my "backyard" can vary from 10-35 animals depending on the time of year and the change in preferred food sources-mostly woodland food sources. The bottom line is, in most cases, don't worry about it.
The picture I posted above is a three-animal bachelor group. During the rut, all three of these bucks separate and vanish for two months. After January, they come back and are together again. They range in age from 2.5-4.5 years.
Bowriter what makes the deer horns grow higher, taller? I will have pictures of normal looking bucks at night, then in the next picture all the normal looking bucks are looking one way. Then all deer will be gone, then a group of alien deer, tall high racks come in. I was assuming they are a younger group of bacherlors?
Agreed - Dispersal is something I've studied for 30+ years too. In the beginning I knew it was happening because I observed it. About the time the internet came about - that's when I learned that I wasn't the only one asking this question, and I learned what dispersal was about.

One other thing that I've really learned, is that in and larger area containing marginal habitat - the old does claim the best areas. That sounds innocent enough at first but as a habitat manager - it doesn't take long to realize that all the work you do to create ultimate deer habitat is appreciated - by the old does and their matriarchal posse as we like to say. The bachelor group bucks in the summer - tend to get pushed out to what we'd sometimes consider to be less than ideal habitat. Also - sometimes they show up in just the BIGGEST field around - as its all about being seen - if you are an up and coming buck trying to fit in.

Every year for me - it doesn't matter how many does we kill - we have more the next season. I read a long time ago that the model for doe dispersion is like a rose petal - and its something that makes a ton of sense - especially when you kill a bunch of does - how the others on the fringes just fill in the blanks.

Its a chess game sometimes. I will say if you have a property that consistently hosts a bachelor buck group - and especially a mature group - then you have something special.