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Deer Management Articles

Antler Growth

by T.R. Michels


Whitetail bucks and does should be on their summer home ranges by June, and the does should be done fawning this month. It's time to start working on habitat improvement: fertilizing, mowing, spraying, and clearing trails and pat

Antler Growth
If you want to see more big-racked bucks in your area the first thing you have to do is use a little restraint. You need to let the young bucks go, so they can grow. I often hear hunters complain that they don't see anything but small racked bucks in their area. These hunters often wait patiently through the season for a big racked buck to appear. Then, instead of going home empty handed they end up taking a small racked buck. If this pattern continues year after year those hunters will continue to see nothing but young, small-racked bucks, because the young deer never live long enough to grow big racks.

Age and Antler Size
Deer experts used to believe it took 4 1/2 years for a whitetail buck to develop a trophy rack. It is now believed that a whitetail doesn't achieve full body size until it is about 7 1/2 years old. Until then much of the food and mineral a buck takes in is used to develop bone and muscle mass. Once the buck is fully mature, excess food and mineral can be used to develop antler mass, and many hunters equate antler mass with a high score.

A close look at any scoring chart will reveal that it is the number and length of tines that makes up the majority of inches needed for the rack to score high enough to enter the record books. The difference between a massive rack and a thin rack might only add 10 inches, which is 1/14 of a 140 class buck, not enough to really matter.

Milo Hanson's World record whitetail has several tines with extremely long points, and it has long main beams, with a good spread, but it is not massive. The length of the tines is what made it the new World Record whitetail. Game officials aged the buck at 4 1/2 years old. Obviously it had superior genetics, and it lived until it was 4 1/2 years old. It is conceivable that a 3 1/2 year old buck could make the archery record book, but most trophy bucks are over 4 1/2 years of age.

In many areas bucks don't make it past their first year, and the chances of a 2 1/2 year old buck making the book are slim. If you want to see more large racked bucks you have to let the 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 year old bucks go, so they can grow. By letting the young bucks grow, and taking does, you not only keep the herd below carrying capacity, you increase the buck to doe ratio in favor of bucks. Eventually you will have more older-class bucks, which may translate into more larger racked deer.

That being said, scientific studies have shown that antler point restrictions, whereby hunters judge the approximate age of a buck by the number of points it carries, may actually lead to smaller racked bucks in the future. In other words, antler point restrictions alone, used to increase the size of the racks on the bucks in the herd, may not work.

What the study showed is that hunters may not be able to judge the age of the bucks by the size of its rack, and that some yearling bucks with larger than normal racks for the area may be harvested by hunters (who may believe they are shooting older-class bucks. When high numbers (over 50%) of the large-racked yearling bucks are harvested it leaves only the smaller-racked bucks to survive.

These smaller racked bucks may be genetically programmed to grow small racks, and pass on that trait to their offspring, resulting in the yearling bucks producing smaller than normal racks (for the herd, or as opposed to previously harvested bucks) at 2 or 3 years of age. They may also pass on their small-rack genetics to their future offspring, resulting in smaller racked bucks in future years.

This study suggests that hunter should learn to distinguish yearling bucks (from older-class bucks) by their smaller bodies, less developed muscles and rounder faces; and pass up all yearling bucks, no matter how big their racks are. Then, once the bucks reach 3-4 years of age, you can cull the bucks with smaller racks.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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