It is late in Georgia's deer season, and the rut is winding down. Older bucks have resumed their nocturnal ways, leaving many hunters with a wallet full of doe tags.
Filling those tags puts excellent meat in the freezer. But sometimes those antlerless deer aren't does at all. They're this year's male fawns, called "button bucks" because of the telltale nubs on their heads.
Wildlife authorities estimate about 6 percent of Georgia's annual deer harvest - which totaled 410,000 animals last season - are button bucks.
Although legal to harvest, they provide less meat than older deer and also remove next season's four- and six-point bucks from the herd, making it more difficult to cultivate mature, trophy class deer.
Haven Barnhill, a senior Georgia wildlife biologist, said button bucks can be killed even by the most experienced hunters. But it's not the end of the world.
"If you want to manage for more and bigger bucks, you obviously don't want to shoot button bucks," he said. "But they are more expendable than the 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 -year-old bucks, which are the most important ones."
Most hunting groups encourage their members to avoid shooting button bucks and some clubs penalize violators. Barnhill noted, however, that harvesting adequate numbers of deer is also crucial to proper management.
"If there are a few button bucks in the harvest, it isn't that big of a deal," he said. "You have to keep in mind that it is important to harvest enough deer to keep the herd within the carrying capacity of the land."
Typically, button bucks will weigh from 40 to 70 pounds, while an adult doe - a more preferable target - will weigh 85 to 120 pounds and yield more venison.
If you prefer to avoid shooting a button buck, here are some tips to help identify young male deer and tell them apart from does:
Think twice before shooting a solitary, small deer. Button bucks often leave their mothers and wander alone.
Watch for groups of antlerless deer. The largest one almost certainly will be a mature doe.
Young deer have a short, triangle-shaped head and a square profile. Mature does have a longer nose and a deeper chest, and their profile is more like a horizontal rectangle.
Carry good binoculars and look closely for the telltale "buttons" on a young buck's head.
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