Nose-to-Nose Interaction Between Two Whitetail Bucks

My photo for the day is of something you don’t see very often – two Whitetail Bucks meeting in a heavy frost-covered field to touch nose to nose. I photographed these two Bucks at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

Nose-to-Nose Interaction Between Two Whitetail Bucks
Nose-to-Nose Interaction Between Two Whitetail Bucks (Larger Image)

I have been seeing a total of three Bucks in a field in the southwest corner of the refuge for several of my trips to this refuge. The problem is that they were always in the back of the field, which is a long distance from the auto tour road where I park to photograph them from inside my truck. On January 13th, I decided to go to that location, hoping that they would be closer to the road. I also noticed on my last visit that one of the Bucks had shed one side of its antlers, and I wanted a photo of that Buck.

I now had a plan, and at sunrise, I started driving in that direction. On the way, I spotted a couple of Whitetail Does that I wanted to photograph because they had frost on their backs. This caused a delay, and I thought this might have messed up my plan of seeing the three Bucks. I continued anyway, and when I got to that area, I counted thirteen Bucks in the field. What an awesome surprise! All thirteen were a little closer to the road than the other three had been on my past trips to this spot. The only thing I wished was that these Bucks were closer together so that I could have gotten a photo of all of them together.

These Bucks were leaving the field heading for a large group of trees. I noticed a couple of them had shed their antlers in the past few days, but I could not get a good photo to show how fresh the wounds looked after the antlers were shed.

Two of the Bucks stopped and started approaching each other face to face. I thought at first that these two Bucks were going to fight each other. They surprised me when they slowly touched their noses together and held that pose for several seconds. They then moved apart and continued off the field and into the tree line out of sight.

While the exact purpose of Whitetail Bucks touching noses during the non-breeding season isn’t fully understood, there are several likely explanations:

  • Information exchange: One theory is that nose-to-nose contact allows bucks to exchange information about each other’s dominance status, health, and even food sources. Their noses are equipped with Jacobson’s organ, which helps them detect pheromones and other chemical signals. These signals could convey a wealth of information about the other buck, helping them avoid unnecessary confrontations or assess potential competitors.
  • Social bonding: Some researchers believe nose-to-nose contact could be a form of social bonding or greeting between bucks. This is especially observed among related individuals or bucks that share the same territory. The gentle nudge and sniff could strengthen social ties and maintain familiarity within the herd.
  • Rank order determination: In some cases, nose-to-nose contact might be part of a ritualized dominance display. One buck might nudge the other’s nose higher to assert its superior position, while the submissive buck might lower its head or lick the other’s nose as a sign of respect. This helps establish a hierarchy within the herd and minimize conflict.
  • Playful interaction: Beyond serious social interactions, nose-to-nose contact could also be playful behavior, especially among younger bucks. This could be a way for them to learn social skills and explore their relationships with each other.

The actual meaning of nose-to-nose contact likely depends on the context and individual bucks involved. Factors like age, dominance, and familiarity can all influence the purpose of this behavior. While the mystery remains, observing this gentle interaction offers a glimpse into the complex social dynamics of whitetail deer.

Image Information:

  • Date: 01/13/24
  • Time: 07:35 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 6400
  • Aperture: 7.1
  • Shutter: 1/400
  • Exp. Comp.:+0.3
  • Lens (mm): 500
  • Program Mode: Manual

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