Just how physical do bucks get when fighting.  Are a few pushes and shoves enough during a fight?  Or will deer actually fight to the death?

Dr. Dave Samuel has some insight on this topic in an article he did for Bowhunting World.

When the rut is on, bucks will fight. While most “fights” are just pushing and shoving matches often involving young bucks that don’t even know they are bucks yet, others are aggressive encounters. Older, mature bucks — those that do three quarters of the mating — do throw down. And sometimes those fights can be downright nasty.

Still, it’s pretty unusual for bucks to actually kill each other.

However, a study by Gabrial Karns, a graduate student from North Carolina State University, and Dr. Mark Conners, manager and wildlife biologist at Chesapeake Farms on the eastern shore of Maryland, shows some fights do lead to a slow death.

What a “fight to the death” might look like (Hint: It’s very slow)

There is a bacterial disease called intracranial abscessation (basically a bad infection) that affects the brain, deteriorates the skull and leads to the death of some older bucks. How many? Some national statistics suggest that 10 percent of all natural, deer mortalities that occur (including predation, diseases, winter deaths and automobiles, but not hunting) is caused by this bacterial disease.

Karns and Conners found those numbers to be quite a bit higher on Chesapeake Farms.

Dr. Conners noticed that antler shedding occurred rather irregularly on the farm. Some older bucks shed early, others late. Among the antlers Conners collected were some carrying a foul odor, suggesting an infection. The wildlife biologist also noticed an irregularity at the base of some sheds which turned out to be a portion of the deer’s skull. The portion, the pedicle, is the boney protrusion on the skull’s frontal bone where the antler is attached.

This was puzzling. Normally, when a deer sheds its antlers, its caused by a separation from the pedicle. This, along with the observed foul odor, suggested something more. And one other thing: most of the dead, older bucks the researchers examined had pus oozing out at the base of the antlers or around the eye socket. During a five-year period, 26 bucks were autopsied and, of those, nine (35 percent) had abscesses around the brain. [Continued]