Influencing Antler Development in Bucks

Whitetail age genetics nutrition

Believe it or not, big bucks are both born and made! The whitetail bucks on your property may be born with great genetics, but if they don’t get what they need, they may never show their true potential. On the flip side, some bucks will never meet your expectations simply because they are genetically doomed. It’s not their fault, but not all bucks are born with the same genetic code. So how do you get maximum antler growth from your deer herd? Antler development (main beam length, antler spread, basal circumference, and number of points) is dependent upon three factors: nutrition (quantity and quality of food), age, and genetics.

Nutrition: Nutrition can be optimized by the methods discussed above: controlling the numbers of deer and exotic ungulates, utilizing a rotational system of domestic livestock grazing with moderate stocking rates, and controlling noxious vegetation.  Supplemental feeding and supplemental plantings, in conjunction with the above practices, can be used to help meet the nutritional needs of deer. 

Age: Maximum antler development of buck deer is attained at 5 to 6 years of age.Allowing bucks to reach older ages and grow more body mass through selective harvest will allow them to attain their maximum potential antler growth. Heavy, mature bucks typically produce the largest antlers.

Genetics: Spike antlered bucks are the result of inadequate nutrition, genetics, or a combination of these two factors.  Research has shown that yearling (1 1/2 year old) bucks have the potential to produce 4 to 8 points as their first set of antlers if nutrition is adequate and they have the proper genetic background.  Conversely, bucks may only produce spike antlers as yearlings if they have “spikes genes”, even with adequate nutrition.  Although the subsequent sets of antlers of yearling spikes generally will not be spikes, their antlers tend to be inferior to those of bucks that were forked antlered as yearlings.

Consequently, the incidence of inferior antlered bucks in the population should be minimized by the combination of optimizing nutrition (habitat management) and including spike antlered bucks in the total deer harvest. 

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