Deer social structure

Published on 03 July 2018
Author: Aleksejs Vankovs
A lot of studies have been done about the social structure of deer by many great experts, doctors, and professors, who spent countless hours studying and writing PhD theses on the subject. So many different species, locations, areas and climates and everywhere the structure of deer society is different.

3 deer species with 3 different social structures

My grounds have only 3 of the 6 common species in the UK: roe deer, fallow deer and muntjac, and each one has different habits, different social preferences, and feeding requirements.

Deer: herd structure

For example, fallow deer are related to other deer species like the red deer and Japanese Sika deer, as they all are herd animals and can form large groups of well over 100 heads. The bucks or stags can be very aggressive towards each other, especially in the rutting/mating season. In the deer world, the size of the buck is very important, as well as the size of his “rack” (antlers). It’s not enough just to be older, the master buck must be big and strong, as every buck around will challenge him for his territory and harem.

The older and stronger bucks are more likely to spend most of their lives alone. Sometimes younger bucks will shadow bigger and older bucks, in the hope of picking up a doe or two while “the big boys” are busy with real challengers.

Bucks tend to walk alongside each other and measure themselves up before starting a fight: sometimes this is sufficient to win the contest. Does and hinds in deer species are more relaxed and sociable; occasionally they might have an argument and lash out at each other by biting and occasionally “boxing”, but most of the time the older doe will ignore it all.

Roe deer: a territorial species

Roe deer are usually considered to be a more territorial species.  Some people even say that you can set your watch based on roe deer (especially the bucks), as they are always patrolling their grounds and trying to keep to a tight schedule. Bucks are very determined to protect their territory and often get lethal injuries (due to the shape of their antlers). Chasing is very common during the roe deer rut and you can see them running around across fields in the late evening and early morning. Roe does form small groups (around 3-6 + first-year bucks), but in Europe, it is not uncommon to see roe deer in much larger numbers.

Muntjac: live on the move

Muntjac bucks are very secretive animals, as are the does, and due to their nature not very protective of their territory: they only fight if absolutely necessary. They happily mix with others in feeding areas and might occasionally have an argument about food, but for the most part, they just carry on walking.  Muntjac deer are known for not being stationary for long periods of time: some people say that they live on the move…

Which deer species are your favorites?