February 2, 2023

Why Maine’s Big Bucks Are Bigger

Maybe big bucks from Maine’s “Big Woods” are bigger for some of the reasons everything is bigger in Texas…including the tall tales and damned lies. There are many reasons why whitetail deer might average bigger body mass and/or antlers in one area as opposed to other places…too numerous to cover here. What caught my attention on the broad subject was an article sent to me by a reader, that talks of better nutrients found consistently in one region might explain differences in body mass or antler growth.

“One explanation for this biogeographic size gradient is that plants mature rapidly and more or less at the same time in warm climates. This means that young vegetation, which has the highest levels of nutrients, is actually available for a shorter time in Spain than in Sweden. This may seem paradoxical at first, but the levels particularly of protein and other critical growth nutrients are highest in immature plants. Although there may be several fewer months in which green forage is available at high latitudes, if animals in those regions can find six to eight weeks worth of high-protein young plants, they can grow larger than southern counterparts who may have only three weeks of such high-nutrient foraging. Protein and other critical growth nutrients are key here – not simply caloric intake.”

The author of the linked-to article believes that the deer in northern Maine are bigger because they have to be in order to survive the harsh realities of that region; climate, etc. In a simplistic way his idea is generally true. Most of us don’t have the scientific knowledge to understand all the ins and outs of what makes for bigger deer.

Dr. Valerius Geist, a retired science professor emeritus at the University of Calgary, says that usually when we see accounts of unusually large-bodied whitetail deer it is because they might be “freaks”. Freaks in that they aren’t performing their “natural” duties, many of which cause them to be mean, trim, fighting and mating machines. While for the hunter this might be a good trophy for bragging rights, I’m not sure we need to continue this genetic heritage. It too closely resembles that of Americans. It is, however, an anomaly and not the norm.

I have a very simplistic, and probably “out-behind-the-barn”, humorous theory about why “Big Woods” Maine deer tend to be bigger than say southern Maine deer. In parts of southern Maine deer can number in excess of 20-30 deer per square mile. In the “Big Woods” population densities run a sparse 2-6 creatures per square mile.

So first of all it should be easy to see there is little competition in the “Big Woods” for food, habitat and mating rights. Therefore, unlike those over-stressed southern Maine deer, the Big Woods deer have all the food they want, nobody nagging them to slim down for Fall fun and when it comes mating time, well, what in the South turns out to be a battle for dominance just so a bigger bully can have his way with the women, relentlessly, in the North it’s quite a relaxed scene. Big bucks are getting bigger, very relaxed, munching on some browse and gathering mushrooms, sitting around a campfire and knowing full well that when the rut kicks in he may only have to service a small number of in-heat does, while facing very little opposition from big buck wannabee little bucks. Sounds like the life of Reilly to me.


And this really is not that much unlike the story of Ferdinand the Bull and Little Fernie. You see the two bulls were grazing in the high pasture. Little Fernie was getting to that age where he was beginning to pay attention to the cows down in the lower pasture…if you know what I mean (wink, wink). What? I got to spell it out for you?

One day Little Fernie’s urges were getting to him and he was beginning to drive his father, Ferdinand the Bull, crazy. One day Little Fernie says, “Hey, Dad! What do say that you and I jump this fence, run down over the hill and get us one of them cows!”

Ferdinand the Bull munched away on his grass (getting all those nutrients that made him bigger than the other bulls – get it?), seemingly undeterred from getting a good meal. Little Fernie persisted.

Ferdinand the Bull finally says to Little Fernie, “Son! Suppose you and I go over there to the gate, walk through it, take a leisurely stroll down over the hill and take on ALL them cows!”