The Button Buck Dilemma

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

Eric was a longtime deer hunter who had grown up when there weren’t many deer, and he always felt it was just not right to kill a doe. After all, he figured, does produce the deer of the future, and shooting one might reduce his chances of taking a deer down the road.

Recently, though, Eric had been reading magazine articles about deer management. The authors stressed the importance of taking does to maintain a healthy herd. He decided that the time had come to start harvesting does on the 200 acres that had been in his family for several generations.

Eric took a nice buck during the first weekend of the November portion of the firearms deer season, so he decided that during the second weekend he would try to take his first doe. The next Saturday morning, Eric was in his favorite tree stand on the edge of a corn-stubble field when a nice-sized deer without antlers walked into the field. It was around 75 yards away and stood broadside. Eric made a good shot.

When he went to inspect his harvest, he was shocked to find that the deer had two small knobs on its head. He was disappointed and muttered to himself, “This is what I get for trying to shoot a doe.”

The deer was a button buck, which is a male deer born the previous summer, making it around 6 months old. On a button buck, the only evidence of antlers are small bumps on top of its head. Although these buttons can sometimes be seen in a hunting situation, they are sufficiently difficult to recognize that button bucks are classified, along with does, as antlerless deer and can therefore be taken on any type of deer hunting permit during the archery or firearms seasons.

In other words, it was perfectly legal for Eric to take the button buck. He also was bringing home some excellent table fare. But, like many other hunters, he wondered how taking button bucks affects the deer management strategy of maintaining the optimum ratio of bucks to does.

Hunters are harvesting a lot of button bucks. During Missouri’s 2005 deer season they took 44,359 button bucks, which was 16 percent of the overall harvest.

Are we reducing potential future buck numbers by taking so many button bucks? To learn the answer, we need to look at the some of the facts about how button buck harvest affects

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