Why do many of the bucks where I hunt in Nebraska have busted antlers?

By Grant Woods,

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← Grant's AnswersDeer Biology
Grant, as you requested, here is the question I sent you while in Nebraska last week:

“Hey Grant, if you have a second want to see if you can confirm or dispel a theory I have. I am out here hunting in northwest Nebraska this week. I have been hunting this same farm for 15 years and have managed it with an if-I-shoot-it-I-mount it policy. Needless to say I’ve let tons of bucks walk. Only my friend hunts the farm other than me. Every year we find the creek bottom littered with rubs on cottonwoods from 4 to 6 inches in diameter. And during this week every year, nearly every buck of any size has busted up racks. I saw a heavy-racked ten pointer this morning that had broken a G2 and his main beam just past the G3 on the opposite side. The anecdotal evidence would suggest there are some monster bucks here somewhere–yet we rarely see them. My largest buck was a 3 year old scoring 157 back in 2012. My theory is that there are indeed whoppers here to make that sign, and that competition is high and intense to bust up racks like that. A nine-day season and 1500 miles severely limits our ability to scout and pattern these larger deer so we’re largely at the mercy of luck while here each year. My question is, do you agree with my conclusion from the evidence available?

As a follow up now that I am home, I did manage a 5×5, 4.5 year old buck off a farm down the creek, that had he not screwed his right beam up on a fence while in velvet would have made a gross of 150.


A portion of my doctoral research was on rub behavior. My study site was near the South Carolina coast and a big deer scored 125″.  The property was managed for a balanced buck:doe ratio. There were many rubs on trees that were 10+” in diameter!  Based on this and other published research antler size doesn’t correlate with rub size.  I suspect the creek is a major travel corridor (which is common in western areas) and many bucks pass through that area.  In addition rubs tend to be congregated by creeks in prairie habitat as there simply aren’t many trees in other areas – especially tree species that deer use as rubs.  Deer are simply rubbing on the trees that are available and within an appropriate size range.

I suspect the high percentage of busted antlers is due to the fragmented nature of the habitat and increased likelihood of buck to buck encounters.  This is the same reason you drive 1,500 miles to hunt the area. It’s probably much easy to pattern bucks in the prairie habitat than near your home (if you live 1,500 miles away – you probably aren’t in the prairie).

Congratulations on tagging a mature buck!

Enjoy creation,


November 27, 2015