Talkin’ deer

by Bruce Ranta | October 23, 2023

Hunters like to hear details about the hunt, including what was harvested or seen during the most recent hunt. Or a hunt long past or a hunt yet to come. There’s always a hunt to talk about.

If you can’t quite comprehend the following, however, you just might not be a deer hunter.

“Our camp had a great hunt. Got a big doe, a dry doe, a spindly six and even one Mr. Big! We passed on a couple of jackrabbits, cheese sticks as well as an up-and-comer. Still hoping someday someone will get real lucky and tag a booner.”

Unsurprisingly, deer hunters use specific words or phrases that only make a lot of sense to other deer hunters. Even if you’re talking to yourself, it helps to have common terms and descriptors that help describe a deer hunt accurately.

Describing your doe

To delve into deer talk, let’s begin with the phrase “a big doe.” Those three words have a lot more going for it than the simple and obvious. 

A big doe is more than likely a mature doe. Hunters can recognize a fawn; and there’s a consensus that any deer older than a fawn is a mature deer. At least that’s the way deer harvest is usually recorded: deer harvest has traditionally been recorded as a fawn (male or female), doe, buck, or unknown. 

Ergo, a female deer that’s not a fawn is a mature doe. Because even big fawns are almost always smaller than any older doe deer, describing the harvested animal as a big doe tells everyone it wasn’t a fawn. 

So, the description makes sense. Plus, taking a big doe is akin to catching a big fish, so while the deer in question may not have been particularly big ― but definitely not a fawn ― describing the deer as a big doe adds to the bragging board, for those who are so inclined. In the fishing and hunting world, big is almost always better than small. 

Handy alternative

If it’s not a big doe, and it’s not a buck and it’s not a fawn, then what is it? A small doe? Possibly, but for many hunters there can be a hesitancy to describe the harvested deer as small, except maybe in a derogatory fashion (and why some hunters call fawns jackrabbits).

Luckily, there’s a handy alternative that’s often available. Most small does are likely a yearling (a fawn the year previous). It’s also likely that a yearling doe was never bred. A doe showing no sign of having nursed is often described as a dry doe. Of course, a big doe can also be a dry doe (although almost all female deer older than fawns are bred every year, doe lose fawns to predators, disease, etc.).

If the deer is both a big doe and a dry doe, that’s quite a bit of information, with relatively little said.

Buck categories

Let’s shift focus a bit.

One of the best ways to describe a deer is by its antlers. Most deer hunters are interested in bucks and commonly categorize buck deer by the size and configuration of their antlers. In addition, deer hunting licences and tags are typically based on whether deer have antlers.

For a buck to be a legal buck, at least one antler needs to be a certain length (three inches or 7.5 centimetres in Ontario). Buck fawns with little nubs, but with little to no measurable length, are commonly called button bucks, or sometimes jackrabbit bucks.

The “cheese sticks”

Bucks with larger, hardened antlers with a single point are spikers — if they have a small branch at the end they are forkhorns. Both are usually legal, although not always. Typically, these deer are yearling bucks. Some collectively call these little bucks cheese sticks.

Then there’s Mr. Spindly; a buck with a curved and wider rack than a cheese stick. It regularly has two or more distinct points per side, but little apparent mass, as both main beam and points are thin. Headgear looks…spindly. Mr. Spindly can be a yearling but is more likely two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years old.

The up and comer is a mature buck, usually with a rack sporting at least eight points that looks solid or has some other redeeming feature, such as very long brow tines — but it’s not a monster buck. The up and comer is older than a yearling, but more information is needed for an age determination.

Yet another buck is the shooter, a more variable category of deer because it’s a subjective determination. For most hunters, a shooter is a mature buck with a rack that’s suitable for display.

Let’s not forget Mr. Big. Mr. Big makes a deer hunter pause and reflect. Typically, Mr. Big is a big-bodied buck that in Ontario will field dress out at more than 200 pounds. In November, it has a thick swollen neck, and a heavy, multi-tined rack. Simply put, Mr. Big is a monster buck.

A booner is also a monster buck, with a focus strictly on antlers. A booner has antlers that when scored make it eligible for the Boone & Crockett record book. It is obviously a mature buck, but may not be overly large with respect to body size.

Real deer hunters are well-versed in deer hunter vocabulary ― an enlightened, entertaining and informative way to communicate.

Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS

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