Fact Checker: Can You Identify a Mature Buck by Droppings?

Fact Checker: Can You Identify a Mature Buck by Droppings?

Myths, lies and old wives’ tales loom large in the outdoor pursuits. Here at MeatEater, we’re dedicated to separating facts from bullsh*t, so we created this series to examine suspect yarns. If there’s a belief, rumor or long-held assumption you’d like us to fact check, drop us a note at factchecker@themeateater.com.

An observant hunter can identify deer sex by studying droppings. Large piles of soft scat are made by bucks, and small piles of pellet-shaped scat are made by does.

I first heard this claim from one of the smartest whitetail hunters I know, who was informed of this by his grandad. In recent years, I’ve seen this idea thrown around on different websites and forums, too. It’s unclear when or where this theory started, but I think hunters can collectively credit their grandfathers for this bit of wisdom.

The shape of deer droppings is not indicative of deer sex. Rather, stool shape is a product of diet. Round, individual droppings (similar to a rabbit) come from deer that are eating firmer foods, like leaves, twigs, acorns, and grain. Lumpy, smooth droppings come from deer that are eating softer foods, like grasses, fruits, clover, and alfalfa.

Some studies show that mature bucks leave slightly larger piles, but researchers note that it’s hardly a noticeable quantity. “Work within deer pens would also point to the fact that the average hunter cannot identify does from bucks through their droppings. In fact, some of my trophy deer droppings have come from penned does,” wrote whitetail biologist C.J. Winand in a 2008 Buckmasters article.

Deer droppings shouldn’t be ignored all together, though. These are still useful bits of brown intel that can inform you of things like how recently the deer was there, how many deer are in the area, and what the preferred food source is. But, anyone who claims they can identify a mature buck by its crap is just… full of crap.

Feature image via Wiki Commons.

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