What a Rut Injury Means for a Buck

The Herd: Monitoring Injury

3/15/2021
Casey Keefer

We’ve all seen the pictures and heard the stories of 3-legged deer…deer that go on to live a long life. For an animal that at times, can seem so flimsy, deer really are tough animals, especially from the fall through winter. Often times during the rut, major injuries can occur – broken legs, gouged out eyes and gore wounds – to name a few. So how detrimental are these injuries to a buck? That’s a great question full of tough-to-say answers. In the case of Sundown, a mature 7.5-8.5 year old buck I was after in Kansas – all things pointed to him not surviving the winter.

At our last known observation of Sundown, Chris encountered him in a stand we call the Beat Lab – and there is no doubt that another buck absolutely worked him over. Sundown was stiff enough and sore enough that he could barely walk. As a matter of fact, for the majority of the sit, he laid out in front of the stand just under 100 yds – and literally licked his wounds. He was a bruised and beaten buck that was teetering on the edge. He had no ability to move about like normal let alone the desire to get up. All Chris could do was sit and watch. I remember watching the footage that night and having the conversation…we were thoroughly convinced that if we didn’t end up getting a crack at Sundown this season we were all sure that we would find his carcass, most likely buried somewhere in the thick stuff, come spring. We never got a crack.

As the next season came upon us we got our trail cameras rolling and we were taking inventory – no signs of Sundown. We didn’t find his sheds in the spring, or a carcass, and now we weren’t getting pictures of him. Sundown was a regular for 4 years just about – and he simply vanished…surely he was dead. We figured he made his way on to our neighbors place, something that wasn’t uncommon for him, and that’s where he finally died. So, after 10 months of no Sundown, we wrote him off entirely. Fast forward to November. As I was perched up high in my Millennium I heard a hellacious grunt – almost an angry grunt. The does tore out of the timber and ran into the CRP in front of me – the smaller bucks were scattering and all of sudden here comes an old gnarly ancient whitetail charging into the field…HOLY SHIT it’s Sundown! A mile from where we last saw him and in an area he’d never showed himself on camera before…but there he was right there in front of me. After a quick range with my Garmin Xero A1i, I held for 46 yards and it was all over. A 4 year battle had come to a close with a deer that I absolutely thought was dead. Just goes to show you no matter how bad they look, they can take a licking and keep on ticking!

Each deer takes on and learns to handle injury in their own way. I’ve seen deer with the smallest little puncture in their back ham get completely infected by bacteria and die – and I’ve watched a buck with his eye hanging out below his jawline go about his business like nothing was wrong. So, you just never know. The way I tagged out on Sundown is by no means the way I thought it would happen…but I’ll take it none the less!