The hunting season may have have ended for majority of white-tailed deer hunters, but there is no better time to reflect back over the past season than while it’s all fresh in your mind. If you had to opportunity to spend many days in the field, then you should have a good picture of the overall deer herd in your area. Better yet, if you recorded deer observations while hunting, then you have the hard data to support what is happening under your ranch’s current deer management program. These field observations, in addition to game camera photos, will allow you to track individual bucks from one year to the next. I strongly recommend keeping both photo and stand observations since some bucks always seem to avoid getting caught on camera.
With regards to antlered deer, one issue that always seems to come up is the lack of brow tines on individual white-tailed bucks. Hunters often have questioned why some middle-aged and older bucks simply lack brow tines. And yes, antler characteristics are genetically linked and highly heritable. To back up this claim, I will cite some long-term data collected from the Texas’ Kerr Wildlife Management Area.
From 1974 to 1997, this research facility was involved in a number of studies designed to determine the role of nutrition and genetics in white-tailed deer antler development. During each of various studies that took place over that time, researchers recorded antler information for individual bucks throughout that 23 year period. This wealth of data allowed biologists to back-track 217 bucks from yearlings (1 1/2) to 3 1/2 years of age and 168 bucks until they were 4 1/2 years old. So what did they find?
In short, data from 385 bucks found that 90% of the bucks without brow tines at 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 years of age were spikes as yearlings (1 1/2 years old). All bucks without brow tines at 1 1/2 years old lacked brow tines at 4 1/2 years old. On the other hand, all bucks with 5 or more points as yearlings had both brow tines at maturity. Bucks that had both brow tines as yearlings had both brow tines at 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 years of age.
The numbers above speak for themselves. In addition, we know that antler characteristics in white-tailed deer are highly heritable, so the probability of passing on genes for larger (or smaller) antlers is high depending on the quality of the bucks doing the breeding. If you are seeing a good number of bucks without brow tines on your ranch, then you now know it’s all in the genes. The only way to improve antler quality and reverse missing brow tines is to put pressure on spikes and bucks without brow tines, regardless of age. Your deer management practices should also include rolling over the doe herd to reduce the number of old does sired by bucks lacking brow tines.