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Sunday, November 15, 2009

How many points on a buck?

It's rutting season, and as a result it seems like deer have been everywhere. It's the time of year males get to show off their antlers, and as a result I've had several discussions about how many "points" a buck has. A point is each tine on the antler, including the brow tine, which sticks straight up near the base of the antlers. Someone will say they saw a four-point buck, and the debate is whether that means four tines total or four tines on each side.

A little research has shown that traditionally you count all the points on the antlers. This makes sense to me, since antlers are not always even on both sides, so it may be possible to have a seven pointer who has three tines on one side and four on another. The confusion comes in the fact that some hunters, particularly on the west coast, use the other method. So what is traditionally called an eight point buck could also be called a western four pointer. Follow all that?


The buck in the photo above is an eight-pointer. He's got three prominent tines, plus the two brow tines which are easier to see if you enlarge the picture by clicking on it. The other question I've had come up several times is whether or not the number of points is related to age - ie, do older bucks have more points? The answer is, someone surprisingly, no. It turns out the number of points has more to do with genetics and can also be influenced by diet and overall health of the deer. That makes sense - if you're a healthier deer you can "afford" to put more energy into larger antlers.

For white-tailed deer, common over much of North America, bucks can get up to sixteen or more points. On San Juan Island, we have mule deer, and their antlers are a little different. Their antlers fork as they grow rather than branch off the main shaft, and from what I can tell they don't usually have as many points as white-tails.


The other afternoon when I was out near sunset there were probably about fifteen deer grazing the prairies near the south end of the island. The buck pictured above was the largest male I saw, but mostly they were females. With the golden late afternoon light and some remnant clouds from our weather earlier in the day, this silhouette shot turned out to be a beauty:


Here's another pair of does that lifted their heads to check me out before returning to their grazing:


Despite the beautiful photo ops of the deer, my prized photo of the day was actually of a bird. I only see them occasionally and they've never let me approach close enough for a photo until now - the northern shrike!


The south end of the island is actually a pretty reliable place to see the shrikes this time of a year, as I think we have a couple that overwinter there. They're still a treasured find for this birder.

It was a beautiful afternoon outing, and my last on San Juan Island for the calendar year! I've headed south for at least part of the winter and arrived in Portland, Oregon last night. My heart lies in the islands, but Portland is where I grew up, and it will be nice to catch up with family and friends over the next little while in addition to visiting some of the local natural areas with a keener naturalists' eye. Stay tuned as my future posts, over the next few weeks at least, will feature some new places and different critters!

3 comments:

Heather said...

I guess I always assumed that the points would be counted as all of them on both antlers, not by the pair. Interesting stuff. We haven't seen so many bucks around, but there certainly has been an increase in dead deer at the side of the road!
Glad to hear you made to Portland safely. I'll look forward to seeing your new critters. I know what you mean about going to a place you've known well, but now you look at it with different eyes b/c you are on the lookout for new things, whether it be with the naturalist's eye, or sometimes, in my case, with a photographer's eye (or both!).

Warren Baker said...

Yep, we get the point Monika! I love shrikes, never found one myself, but one day...........

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