The Culling of White-tailed Bucks is Not a Myth

The Culling of White-tailed Bucks is Not a Myth

There has been an ongoing debate in deer management over the culling young white-tailed bucks based on antler characteristics ever since the first research on the subject concluded. The subject at the very heart of this debate still remains the harvest of spike antlered bucks. Though many deer managers cull bucks in an attempt to improve the antler quality of their deer herd, does it really work?

DADH: “Conflicting penned deer research findings have fueled the age-old culling controversy. Study results on captive deer have produced recommendations ranging from removing all spike-antlered (presumably genetically inferior) yearlings, to complete protection of all yearling bucks regardless of their antler traits. Those favoring selective removal of small-antlered young bucks claim such a practice will remove small-antlered genes from the herd and improve antler quality.”

Texas has lead the way in terms of antler research. Research conducted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department suggests that breeding better-antlered white-tailed bucks improved the antler quality of bucks sired, but then researchers at Texas A&M University concluded that a doe’s “nurturing ability” was the most important factor. The latter study suggests that the genetics of individual deer are not important at all?

In an attempt to end the culling debate, researchers from Stephen F. Austin State University set out to determine if a white-tailed buck’s first set of antlers were good predictors of future antler growth. Would yearling bucks in a wild population and varying in antler quality really be significantly different as they aged? To answer this question, wild bucks were captured in South Texas and yearling bucks were permanently marked. This allowed bucks to be tracked from yearling to maturity.


What did they find? Well, at 4 1/2 years old they observed no significant difference in Boone and Crockett antler scores between marked 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 point yearling bucks. Researchers found that smaller antlered yearling bucks attained a mean antler size equal in width, mass, length and number of points to those starting with larger antlers at yearling age. They were also not significantly different at 5½ years of age and older. Earlier I said that culling works, but this research suggests that removing small-antlered yearling bucks would not improve mature buck antler size. So what gives?

Well, first let’s look at how the yearling bucks were grouped. In the study, yearling bucks were divided into two antler-point categories, those with three or fewer antler points and those with four or more antler points. Although their objectives were to determine if 2 and 3 point bucks were inferior to 4+ point bucks, the implications to deer managers are muddy. If one were to just read through the study it would seem meaningless to cull at all, but it’s not and here’s why.

In my opinion, instead of comparing 2 and 3 point yearling bucks with 4+ point yearling bucks, the data should be re-worked to compare 2 and 3 point yearling bucks with 7 and 8 point yearling bucks. Since most yearlings have either 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 total points, I think all the mediocre yearlings (4, 5, and 6 points) bring down the average from the top-end deer (7 and 8 points). Since yearling antler points, like everything else, fall along a bell curve, I can only assume that there were many more 4, 5, and 6 point bucks in their sample than 7 and 8 point yearlings. Let’s see the data from 2 and 3 point deer versus only 7 and 8 point yearlings.

Buck Management:  Culling bucks is not simply shooting every 2 and 3 point buck we see. If you are even remotely interested in improving the buck segment of a deer herd then I recommend shooting yearling bucks with 4 or fewer antler points. If you have a higher threshold for pain (especially fewer bucks in the short-term), then I suggest shooting yearling bucks with 5 or fewer antler points. This may sound insane at first, but because top-end bucks make up only 20% or less of the buck herd, the competition has to be removed! By doing this, a land owner can ensure that all future deer (bucks and does) are sired by the best bucks. If you are going to make drastic genetic changes within a population, it takes drastic action. Ranchers do not put a crappy bull, a mediocre bull, and a good bull in with their cows and hope all the calves end up being grand champions.

Buck management is not a one-size-fits-all for every ranch. Culling must occur at the yearling level as well as each age class thereafter. Bucks at each age must be compared on a relative basis to other bucks in the age class and inferior bucks should be harvested. As a property progresses in a deer management program the quality of cull, management, and trophy bucks should increase if the age, genetics, and nutrition are in place. And remember this, if genetics were not heritable why would deer breeders (whether you like them or not) consistently produce monster buck after monster buck. I think there is something to it!


4 Replies to “The Culling of White-tailed Bucks is Not a Myth”

  1. You have no real arguments and that’s what sad. Back up what you say with science! This article is nothing more that camp fire talk. Be honest that there is just no way of really knowing at this point, so why kill a buck that could be a trophy in the following years. Like I said, be honest, its easy to make the argument of culling because it means you can kill more deer. Let ’em walk. It will probably pay off in the end. QDMA has a great article about culling and how it should be used.

  2. The previous comment written by “Cory” was not thought through well. There are NUMEROUS references in the article to data or “science” by TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.), Texas A&M, etc… all with different perspectives. The author does have an argument, but he shows all sides before he presents his/her beliefs.

    The South TX experiment was a one-time trial. It was only done once…that’s it…and only in South Texas. Not all ranches have the great native nutrition South TX has, so that research means nothing to those of us hunting in the Hill Country.

    The TPWD has OVER THIRTY YEARS of data from native Texas Hill Country whitetail deer that were put into pens that were captured from the wild. They put deer on 16% and 8% protein supplements and concluded that all bucks with less that 5 points as 1 1/2 year olds should be shot based upon their average B&C score as a mature buck.

    We have 1,000 acres high-fenced and we have followed TPWD recommendations (leaving the occasional big 4 or 5). When we got the place, we started shooting trophies that were in the 120’s max. Now, 10 years later, we harvested 2 bucks in the 160’s (last year) and have one walking around in the 170’s that will be taken next year (most mature bucks we have are in the 150’s now). We no longer have bucks that have one or no brow tines (spikes or 3 pointers as 1.5 years old usually).

    The problem with “let ’em walk” is that research confirms that bucks of ALL age classes will and do breed does during the rut. You are letting inferior bucks breed does for 3 years. When we first got our ranch, we had the occasional mature 10 pointer. Now, we have over 35 bucks with 10 or more points (some at 2 years old) and the occasional mature 8 or 9 pointer…and those occasional mature 8 pointers are shot and they are usually very big 8’s.

    Will some 2-5 pointers become big bucks?…the answer is yes, but we’re talking 1 out of 100. Is it worth keeping the true potential of your herd inferior for that one good buck (that may appear after 5 years of letting all of them go)? The answer is no. He may be a wall- hanger, but the more inferior bucks you have breeding does, the less chance you have of the “right buck” breeding the “right doe” and creating the monster buck of your dreams (which is a lot bigger than the buck you “let go” as a 4 pointer). It will also increase your herd size by letting all those bucks walk.

    This is without a doubt the most hotly debated topic in the history of whitetail hunting and can certainly turn hunters against each other. We use the best research available for our region (TPWD). We have proven results and we’re shooting bucks that I only used to drool over in magazines. Everyone has their own take on what is best for them and there is so much conflicting research that hunters cannot differentiate what is best. I have my take, Someone who lets their bucks go at all ages may have great deer also. We started with poor genetics and worked hard to get what we have. Some ranches have great genetics already and can afford to let bucks walk. My suggestions are apparent, but you need to do what you think is right for your lease or ranch.

  3. Hi, I’m trying to find out how to legally harvest 2 cull bucks. One of the bucks has only 1 antler. The other base is completely grown over. I have pics of him from this year and last year. There is another buck that the left antler is a single antler, but is forked near the end. Neither buck fits in the “legal buck” category, but both need to be removed from the herd. They are both free range deer. Any suggestions?

    John in Montague County, Texas

  4. John, I would recommend contacting your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist. If you are interested in deer management, then you can work with them to manager the deer and habitat found on your property and possibly receive Managed Lands Deer (MLD) Permits. With MLD permits, you would have increased harvest flexibility in the future. You can find the biologist for your county here.

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