The Button Buck Dilemma

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

is less potential to reduce overall button buck harvest.

Another factor is that button bucks have to survive one more year than yearling bucks before they become adults.

It’s also easier for hunters to identify yearling and older bucks because their antlers are more visible. Although many hunters are able to spot the small nubs of button bucks, it may not be practical to require them to do so. It makes more sense to restrict the harvest of young antlered deer.

Another consideration is that young bucks are highly mobile in Missouri. As many as 75 percent of radiotracked young buck deer move away (disperse) from their birth place. By the time bucks reach 2 years of age, they usually have a home range in which they remain for the rest of their lives, although they might move widely during the breeding season.

The average distance moved by dispersing bucks was 9 miles, but some deer moved more than 100 miles. This means the button bucks you protect during the hunting season probably will not be on your property the following hunting season. However, the yearling buck on your property during the gun season probably has already become established in the area. If not harvested by you, it may very well be on your property next year as a 2.5-year-old buck.

For all these reasons, protecting yearling bucks has a more immediate and greater payback in terms of future adult buck availability on your property than protecting button bucks.

You might wonder if it helps at all to avoid taking button bucks where you hunt. The answer depends on your management objectives. If your goal is to produce older-aged bucks, then reducing the harvest of yearling bucks is your best strategy.

This is not to say that reducing button buck harvest won’t have any effect. If everyone over a large area surrounding your property reduces button buck harvest, the result could be an improvement in the number of adult bucks on your hunting area. Also, there may be some button bucks on your land that will likely stay put and grow older there.

Reducing the Herd

In counties where we need to stabilize or reduce deer numbers, the Department of Conservation would prefer to see more does and fewer button bucks taken.

Again, the model helps demonstrate the dynamics. If button buck harvest is cut in half and those hunters who don’t take button bucks instead take adult does, overall deer numbers would decline by 3 percent annually. Advantages of this reduction include fewer problems with overpopulated deer. In addition, fall breeding activity would probably become more intense, because the more balanced buck-to-doe ratio would result in greater competition among bucks for does.

Many Missouri deer hunters just want to take a deer, no matter what size or gender. If this describes you, especially if you live in an area where deer numbers are low, then you should harvest any legal deer. In fact, if you are in an area where you would like to see more deer, taking a button buck or yearling buck instead of a doe may be a better choice.

Eric’s Conclusion

Eric’s shooting of a button buck when he meant to shoot a doe won’t have much effect on the deer population on his family property. That deer likely would have dispersed to someone else’s property the following year. But, Eric, wanting a more balanced population, decided he would look more carefully at the next “doe” he decides to shoot.

In many parts of the state, adequate doe harvest is essential if we are to continue to manage deer at levels that best meet the desires of Missourians. In these locations, shifting harvest pressure from button bucks and yearling bucks to does will help us to achieve these management goals.

Deer management is an important outcome of deer hunting, but most of us hunt deer because we enjoy being outdoors with family and friends. Putting restrictions on ourselves that go beyond the deer hunting regulations may not be appropriate if they significantly detract from this enjoyment.

Never forget that as a deer hunter you play an important role as a deer manager, but please continue to enjoy the great deer hunting experience.

Identifying Button Bucks

  • The nubs on a button buck often are visible with careful examination, especially through binoculars.
  • A button buck’s head is flat on top between the ears, while a doe’s head is more rounded.
  • Button bucks are more likely to be by themselves than other antlerless deer.
  • If more than one fawn is present in a group, the larger of the fawns is likely to be a button buck.
  • Button bucks are often the first to enter a field or feeding area.

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