Thursday, January 31, 2013

Going Buck Wild

Since they'll be shedding their antlers soon and heading back to the high hills, I thought it would be a good time for a round up of the black-tailed characters I've caught while camera trapping in the Santa Cruz Mountains over the last couple of seasons.

We'll start off with the model male. Thick neck? Check. Wide, polished-like-walnut rack? Check. Sexy, doe-magnet nose scar? Bonus points. He's obviously a total poser, too.

buck
"The name's Buck - James Buck."

And in profile:

buck

Deer antlers are incredible appendages. And - as I was so brightly told this past spring by a 12-year old prodigy naturalist who already knows the bird species in his backyard - "they aren't horns!" Correct young Muir - horns are permanent (and made of keratin, as is hair), and antlers grow and are shed each season (but there are species that keep them longer).

To pull off the accelerated cycle, they grow like a cancer - hormone-driven, cartilage-tipped tumors that ossify into living bone, and then end their explosive expression by dying. And falling off.

But this rapid replacement system does have weaknesses. Damage to a pedicel, poor nutrition, and changes to testosterone levels and like can cause abnormal growth. Sometimes for only a season, sometimes for every season.

Here's another wide, healthy rack:

buck

But this poor guy had a malformed antler and looks like he almost lost an eye for it:

buck

And this mule-faced boy has an odd pair - they give him a bit of an evil look:

buck

Caught listening, smelling or peeing?

buck
"Is that a doe I hear? Or a cougar?"

This little fella is just starting to nub out:

buck

And how about these antlers? Or are they just thick hairs?! The pedicels seem almost non-existent. Or perhaps it's just the camera angle.

buck
"It's not how big they are, it's how... Oh - right - it is. Damn."

This young buck also had a tough season - pencil-thin antlers, one of them broken-off, and a leech or similar parasite on his left eye:

buck

Not only does this character have sickle-style antlers, but check out that right front knee. Ouch. And his belly suggests he isn't doing a lot of running. Can you say lion chow?

buck

buck

This wiry guy has some serious reach with his set:

buck
"Hey baby - you know what long antlers mean, right? Right?"

And this fella looks like he could be a younger brother to long-rack above:

buck

And finally, this big boy has a huge rack, but needs to be a bit more careful about where he walks. Note the surprised look on his face as the camera catches him stepping into a hole.

buck
"Ah, crap. I hope the bucks and does don't see that photo."

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5 comments:

  1. Great timing on that post with the whole Ray Lewis is eating deer antler spray, for the IGF-1 as a PED to recover from a torn triceps and play in the Super Bowl.

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  2. Nice photos. I've always loved those big ears on hemionus....

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    Replies
    1. Me too. Gives them great character.

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  3. I'm still laughing at your captions. I love the photos- I don't think I've ever seen a black-tail before, just the white-tails out East.

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  4. Great selection of shots, RT. I love the brown stain on our black-tails' antlers. Never saw that rich brown color on white-tail antlers in Virginia. BTW, the little buck with the tiny antlers is probably last year's fawn. Occasionally they grow a tiny set before the first birthday. Yearlings usually have spike antlers, but can grow forks when nutrition is good. Notice the open pre-orbital gland on your "mule-faced boy" -- a good sign of general excitation during the rut.

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