Our biologist considers the different factors that contribute to a buck’s coloring.
QUESTION: I am curious why some deer have a different color toupee. For example, we hunt a private track of land in Illinois. All of the deer taken over the years have had the typical grey face/toupee. I got a deer this year with an orange toupee. This buck has beautiful color but is so different from the other deer taken in the same area. Is it a rare genetic thing? Diet? Age? – Greg P.
ANSWER: There are likely several things that influence the color of a buck’s head. One is genetics. Just as people can be blonde, brunet or redhead, hair color does vary between individual deer. This includes both the body and the head, although differences are often more pronounced in the latter.
For the last 10 years, I’ve hunted the same location in central Alabama, and the majority of deer taken had rather pale brown-gray foreheads, much the same color as the rest of their body. However, I’ve also taken some that were more of a rusty, reddish-blonde, or darker chocolate brown, and seen a few that were almost black. Of course, I always hunt at roughly the same time.
Back home in Maine, I have the luxury of hunting a longer span that begins with bow season in early September and ends with muzzleloader in mid December. Here, too, I’ve noticed the foreheads of most bucks are generally grayish-brown, with some being lighter and others darker. However, I’ve also noticed the foreheads of deer taken during the bow season tend to be lighter, and those during the firearms season darker.
I suspect this is somewhat analogous to tarsal staining. Bucks have forehead glands that secrete waxy substances, and secretions increase during the rut. So does rubbing, and the combination of scent secretions, sap and dirt could result in darker staining. Individual deer also seem to show a preference for rubbing certain types of trees, and the type of tree one buck prefers could influence how dark its forehead is.
Age might also be a factor, as it does influence the chemical composition of certain compounds, and is suspected to be a factor in how light or dark antlers are. — Recent Ask the Biologist Question:
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