Deer hunters have a language all their own, the vocabulary of which might baffle the average, nonhunting man or woman on the street. In addition to the generic jargon used by nimrods across the nation, some regions have their own colloquialisms that might cause confusion even among hunters who might be a bit farther from home than they’re accustomed.

Let me offer a few examples.

Most people know a doe is a deer, a female deer; and ray is a drop of golden sun. But female deer are sometimes attributed more colorful monikers like flat heads, slick heads or propeller heads, due to their lack of ornamental headgear. Down south, an older doe is sometimes referred to as a nanny, like the female goat, which can make things confusing when you consider Mainers occasionally refer to a young deer or fawn as a lamb, which is a young sheep, not a goat. These youngsters are also sometimes called skippers, probably because of their frolicy gait, which makes more sense. Meanwhile, some Pennsylvanians muddy the waters further by using the term doe as both singular and plural, as in: ” I saw four doe this morning.”

Collectively, male deer are referred to as bucks, or buck if you’re from Pennsylvania. In his first fall, a buck fawn might be alternately labeled a lamb, a nubbin- or button-head, owing to slight protrusions of the skull that will one day become antlers, should the young stag live that long. Or he may be lumped in with the flat heads and slick heads if a hunter fails to recognize those buttons. Pretty straightforward so far.

Some folks also mistakenly ascribe another title to fawns, but a buck (or a doe) does not become a yearling until after its first birthday. Then a buck may be called one of several different names depending on the configurations of his antlers. Spike or spikehorn is the term for a yearling buck with two single, un-branched antlers. If those antlers split or fork, he might be called a fork-horn, forky or crotch horn. Any further branching typically results in the deer being labeled by the number of points resulting from those bifurcations. For example, a fork-horn that also has brow tines – the first paired points, typically at the antler base – would be called a six-point buck. At least that’s how it’s done in the east. What we call an eight-point, westerners might call a four-point or four-by-four. And some discount the brow tines, so it might only rate three-by-three status.

Once a buck acquires an admirable set of antlers he may be called by one of several sometimes colorful terms. While a shooter is something you order in a bar out west, back east it’s a buck you would consider shooting. It could be any buck if you’re looking to shoot any buck, but the term typically is reserved for larger bucks and used by those holding out for something a little bigger. Booner is short for a buck that will (or might) meet the minimum antler dimensions to qualify for the Boone & Crockett Club’s record book. It’s not surprising you don’t hear that term very often in Maine.

In fact, when someone in Maine suggests that a certain buck might “make the club,” they’re more likely referring to the Biggest Bucks of Maine Club, which recognizes deer with a dressed weight (no internal organs) of 200 pounds or more. It’s also possible they mean the Maine Antler & Skull Trophy Club, though those bucks often get labels like staver, smasher or slunger (rhymes with plunger).

Then there are the legends, tagged with more creative names worthy of their almost mythical status, like gray ghost or old mossy horns. These bucks, whether they truly exist or not, are what keep young men awake the night before a hunt and give old men something to talk about around the woodstove or the local coffee shop. Like bigfoot or the eastern cougar they’re seen only at night, a brief glimpse in a flash of headlights, tales of which will be told and retold in a language any hunter will understand.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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