Antler Restrictions, Concerns Continue in Texas

The white-tailed deer hunting seasons are just months away, which means hunters will begin making their final preparations for the fall. With summer heading into the home-stretch, hunters remaining tasks include the addition of new spin-feeders, the replacement of old stands with new ones, the clearing of shooting lanes, conducting deer surveys and a review of the whitetail hunting regulations for their area. In Texas, one of the most discussed deer hunting regulations continues to be the antler restriction regulations that are in place for bucks in many counties.

Regulations. It’s a safe bet that most hunters are not old enough to remember a time when there were no deer hunting regulations, before there were seasons and limits for specifically for whitetail. One can only imagine the outrage of hunters, commercial ones included, when some well-meaning game biologist came along and suggested that the harvest of wild animals be managed through regulations. I bet a good number of hunters wanted to tan his hide along with the other skins salted down around back. Fast forward to modern times and it’s easy to see (and hear) that some things never change.

Texas Whitetail Hunting: Deer Management through Antler Restrictions

In Texas counties with antler restriction regulations, only two legal bucks exists: those with at least one unbranched antler and those with an inside spread of 13 inches or greater. Antler restrictions get talked about quite often because, well, it can be darn difficult to estimate the inside antler spread of a buck in the field. This is the toughest part of the regulation; the antler spread of many bucks will be close to 13 inches, but no hunter wants to come up short when a warden puts a tape to it. Many hunters have suggested using regulations based on points, such as three or four antler points per side, but this does not work. For those wondering why, take a look at the response from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department after a regular reader of this site recommended a point-based antler regulation:

“I appreciate your comments. One thing this is unique about the Texas antler restriction regulation is that it is designed to eliminate the risk of high-grading bucks. Point restrictions certainly could result in high grading. For example, a rule allowing only bucks with 4 points on a side to be killed is allowing for the harvest of the best yearlings and protection of the poorest-quality yearlings. The reason for this is that there is no correlation between age and number of points.

However, there is a very strong correlation between age and inside spread. That’s one reason why we went with the spread restriction. Another unique aspect of the Texas model is the “slot limit” (i.e., it allows for the harvest of deer with at least one unbranched antler) — further reducing the risk of high grading. Nonetheless, this regulation does indeed protect some mature bucks with narrow spreads, which is an unintended consequence.

But the good news is that only 4 percent of all mature bucks in these Resource Management Units (RMUs) have an inside spread less than 13″ wide (based on data from thousands of harvested bucks). And long-term research has shown us that the bucks with at least one unbranched antler are more likely to be those narrow-racked bucks at maturity. So it would behoove hunters to take advantage of that second buck tag (for spikes and 3-pointers).”

I dislike being managed and regulated as much as the next guy, but most of the regulations in my life seem to be working out okay. They are not overly intrusive. I don’t like it that I can not legally drive my truck as fast as I would like, but I do appreciate the fact that neither can the other idiots on the road. Safety first. I also like the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is keeping the foods I eat safe for the most part. That’s good for the family. I guess deer hunting regulations, possibly even antler restrictions, are something that will always be a part our lives.

If all these regulations ensure that we will be around with some number of deer to chase, then so be it. Regulated hunting through limits and seasons are a component of any state’s deer management program.  I have, without a doubt, observed larger and older free-ranging bucks in areas after antler restriction regulations were implemented. Additionally, most of testimonials I have received on the subject of the antler restriction regulations in Texas have been positive, but there will always be  unhappy campers with any regulation, hunting or otherwise. Of course, I suspect that if all deer regulations were removed and white-tailed deer had no bag limit and no closed season, a small percentage of hunters would actually be happy, but the majority would not. What do you think?

32 Replies to “Antler Restrictions, Concerns Continue in Texas”

  1. We own a place in Mills County. Last year our grandson killed a 4 1/2 year old 9 point with a 17″ spread because of the anther restriction laws. We know that age, nutrition and genetics makes for better racks. We have improved our genetics by using the other tag on our license. Spikes and threes are good eating, but do not make good mature bucks. Kill them early.

  2. Good article…as always. My hometown is in Austin County, which was one of the very first counties that the program was piloted on. Growing up hunting, if you saw a spike… you were lucky, if you saw a 7 pointer… you were blessed. There were very few large antlered deer that survived past 1 1/2 years old. Now they are consistently killing bucks that most of them thought were only alive in magazines.

    Some argue that they should have everyone age deer instead of using antler spread. The problem with that lies in the amount of time it would take to educate the public properly… “properly” being the key word.

    Others believe that their young son should be allowed to shoot whatever they want to in order to “enjoy” hunting. It can be frustrating, but teaching the youth to observe the laws even when a 12″ wide 10 point buck walks out will definitely pay dividends in the development of a child… and influence them in their observance of the when they are adults.

    I have seen the results of the restrictions firsthand. have seen a 63 year old man who never got to shoot anything bigger than an 80 inch B&C 8 point buck harvest a 150″ B&C 12 point buck in the stand behind his house. A huge smile accompanies his story every time he tells it… and there are stories like this all over Austin County now… all due to the once-despised antler restrictions.

  3. I hope TPWD comes up with a method to “discourage” taking of yearling spikes. I’ve seen physical proof that yearling spikes can mature into GREAT bucks; I’ve seen a 200 inch buck that was a yearling spike. I’m only in my 3rd year of management, but I’ve noticed we have some yearling spikes every fall and I rarely see a “mature” spike.

    At the advice of breeders, we don’t shoot young spikes on my ranch unless they appear to be at least 3.5 years old. I think antler restrictions are good; I wonder if results would be even better if they prevented spikes from being taken.

  4. Jack R,

    TPWD promotes the shooting of spikes (mostly 1.5 year olds) because their research coupled with a new research study done in South TX shows that those bucks will have, on average, inferior antlers at maturity.

    Do some spikes end up having a large rack, yes it does happen…although rarely. Your odds are maybe 3 out of 100. Is it worth allowing 97 other inferior antlered deer to breed and bring the overall herd antler quality down?…and it will.

    A 3.5 year old spike is a rarity. Most spikes will become bucks without brow tines (have any of those running around?)or basic 8 pointers, and their B&C scores will be lower than your forked-antered 1.5 year olds. You will rarely see mainframe 10 pointers that were spikes.

    I’ve been involved with management since the early 1990’s. I’ve done it both ways…letting the spikes walk on one place and shooting them on the other (based on the ranch’s philosophy). They both had similar genetics and plenty of protein feed. The one that shot spikes (and culled mature 8 pointers) is shooting bucks in the 190’s…the other one is still trying to break the 150 mark. That was proof enough for me when I got my own place as to what I would do and it’s been working great for us 12 years in.

    Everyone has their own research that proves what they believe to be true with the “spike controversy”. If something works for you and you believe in it, stick with it. I know what works for my ranch, but I’m always open to new ideas on how to improve.

    The TPWD is doing what they believe to be the best management practice, and they are seeing positive results and getting overall great feedback from hunters. I’ve seen the graphs on the quality of bucks they are killing now vs 10 years ago. It gets exponentially better yearly. That’s why it’s spreading to more counties each year.

  5. We have a 3 1/2 year old 4 point (love the pics from our Reconyx cameras) that is not legal and will be breeding does this fall. No brow tines, would love to take him out of the gene pool, this is one time that we do not like the 13″ rule.

    Jack R, I disagree with you and think that if we take out the inferior 1 1/2 year old bucks, allow the 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old bucks to grow and we will have a good selection of mature bucks with above average racks. The TPWD antler restrictions are working in Central Texas. Feed them lots of protein and enjoy the young tender venison.

    Another subject: I am of the opinion that we should all take a doe for every buck that is harvested.

  6. Where can I get diagrams of the 13″ regulation? Me, other hunters, and my grandkids need to have a solid education so that mistakes are not made. Comparative pictures would also help.

  7. Just let the bucks mature. Period. For smaller properties there’s no reason worrying about managing a low-fenced, wild-breeding population of whitetails deer’s antler characteristics. Your best bet is to improve buck to doe ratio, gain buck maturity, and manage to fit the carrying capacity of the land. Antler restrictions aren’t about antlers.

    Antler restrictions are about improving buck to doe ratios by encouraging doe harvest and discouraging immature buck harvest to gain total number of bucks. The resulting maturity provides the side benefit of greater hunting opportunity and larger antlers. The real payoff is a more stable and elastic breeding population.

  8. The 13 inch rule was dreamed up by someone with no knowledge of the realities of hunting East Texas. We don’t have the wide open spaces of other areas of Texas. We seldom have more than seconds to decide if a buck is suitable to harvest. There has to be a better way. I believe this regulation has more to do with money than deer management as do many in the county that hunt. I’m for the 4 points on 1 side rule. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  9. Deer hunting in Central Texas with the “rule” of 13 has worked very well. I’m not real sure how the financial adjustment works into the equation, but the fact remains it has allowed the deer to grow older and be much more justified with harvest. I have hunted East Texas many of times and continue to do so on a regular basis. I find the harvest recommendations are put forth because of the lack of mature deer being harvested. I think the antler restrictions were put into place to improve the areas deer population with a greater percentage of older bucks available for harvest.

  10. Homer, the best deer habitat is a combination of wooded and open areas. If you are allowed to manage/manipulate the habitat where you hunt, then I would suggest creating some forest openings, which will provide additional forbs and browse for the deer in your area. In addition, it may improve visibility and assist in buck harvest (by allowing you more time to view the animals).

    Lastly, one of the best devices for learning more about the deer in your area are game cameras. These allow hunters to quickly identify bucks based on unique antler characteristics. These suggestions will not change the regulations, but they may help you quickly identify an animal and allow you more time to make a harvest shot. Keep hunting!

  11. I have known about our antler restrictions (AR) in Coryell County since I started hunting some family-owned land in 2009. The county started the AR in 2006 and so far I am not seeing the benefit. I am not opposed or against it either way, but it sure is discouraging for my family when I put so much time and effort into it and come home every time with no meat to put in the freezer. Part of everything I am reading seems to imply that the main reason for the AR is antler size. I am not a trophy hunter so unlike popular opinion “size doesn’t matter.” I just love the hunt and love table fare.

    I will continue to hunt because playing the game and being in the woods is just as thrilling as winning the game.

    Waiting Patiently

  12. I used to hunt in Coryell County before there were antler restrictions. It was pretty good hunting then, but as the properties split up around us it got tougher and tougher. I can see how the ARs would help in places where there are not a lot of big properties, otherwise the hunters would shoot all of the bucks. That’s what happened in our old area. We just shot yearlings. My reg book says you can shoot 5 does in Coryell Co. If you like table fare, does are better eating anyway.

  13. My concern is with the 13 inch rule, the state coming on my private property and enforcing even more regulations. To me it’s not the argument of being able to harvest a “legal” deer, it’s more and more intrusion from our government. If the state wants a 13″ rule let the state implement it on public hunting lands. If a hunter pays, sometimes several thousands of dollars, to hunt on a private lease or ranch, that lease or ranch should be allowed to dictate to thier hunters which deer can be harvested.

    I’m not arguing for the removal of a deer season or bag limits etc., those have to be in place to protect the wildlife, but if the state wants tell hunters which deer can be harvested let the state do that on public hunting lands, not on my private property. I have a perfect example of this law just not as good as some like to think.

    Last year on our ranch, we had three bucks shot opening weekend. Two of the bucks measured 12.5 inches inside spread, one of the bucks was a 6 point that was aged at 3-1/2, the other was a poor 8 point. It too was aged at 3-1/2 years old. Both would be illegal if we had the 13 inch rule. Both needed to be removed from the herd! The 13 inch rule is just another way for the state to tell landowners what they “can’t” do on private property!

  14. you dont see the financial equasion? the state of texas is all about making money. thats why your license fee has gone up so much but you not getting more for it. its all about righting tickets for revenue.

  15. The regulations are based on antler size. There for suted to to help only trophie hunters. The 13 inch rule and the doe restrictions blocked all chance to harvest any of the deer I had the ability to shoot this year, leaving me with nothing in the ferezer. The natural perpose of the horns is not for a mount and and will not effect the ability to breed.

    On the other hand, the natural perpouse for hunting is to provide protien. The regulations are skuied and the whole gole driving them is flawed. The state should not be able to stand between the natral corse of providing for your self and famly. The laws should writen to grant a sutainable amout of protine for a household.

  16. Trey, I think all modern hunting regulations take wildlife populations, habitat and sustainability into account for given areas. Best I can tell, this is is why hunting regulations vary from place to place.

  17. All we hear is government intrusion,,,,yet we allow and accept it in deer hunting when this antler restriction is designed to benefit large landowners and trophy hunters. I can pay taxes on my property but someone else dictates what I can do with the resources on it.I see this as being designed to discourage the hunting experience for the limited resource landowner and allow trophy hunters free pass to set the rules. Where I hunt, we do not have enough acreages to obtain doe permits and with this AR it basically says “thanks for purchasing your license and donating to the trophy hunters of Texas”.

  18. Hey James. I used to think the same thing, but what if we had no hunting regulations? That wouldn’t work either. The hunters in our area don’t think this is a trophy buck regulation, because most of the bucks in our area reach the spread criteria and 3 years of age. Some at 2 years old. It has helped us. Went from shooting 1.5 yo bucks to 3.5 and 4.5 yo bucks.

  19. All I can say is before AR I was lucky to see ANY buck. If I did it was a spike or fork. Not what I was after, but I know he wouldn’t make it another year… After AR, I routinely see multiple bucks and have shot my two best bucks the past two years. These bucks would have never lived long enough years ago to reach the age and size that they did. Thank you AR! It keeps my hopes alive for a true trophy deer one day. I also have doe permits and can shoot a doe at anytime during the season for “table fare” if I choose to do so. Bottom line is that if you let the bucks live long enough, more mature deer will be roaming the woods and the better chance you have of harvesting a 3 1/2+ year old deer.

  20. This is only to encourage the growth of “good” bucks, which is dumb. All deer taste good. hunting is for food and population control. This idiotic regulation is so fat cats can pay an exorbitant price to have an impressive wall mount, and then not eat the meat.

  21. I am not a fan of the 13″ rule…so far! we have been hunting the same lease, in Clay County, for near 15 years. In all the years we have been there, we never had a problem seeing deer, good deer. In fact, prior to the rule, most of the bucks we saw early on were 10 points, some 9s, a few 8s, and of course the smaller bucks, and not many doe. I will add, we have never taken a lot of deer, simply because they were too young, but mainly older mature deer, some of which under 13″, but otherwise very nice buck. We did have one hunter and son that did shoot a few of the young 8s, but we got rid of them way back before the rule started.

    Present day, and for the past several years, the mature bucks with bigger racks are few, maybe two or three early before season and early season, very few 10s any more, mostly eights now with a few being what I would call a trophy. But we are seeing more does and very young bucks, an occasional spike, but what surprises me most of all is the trash we see, 7s, 6s, 4s, etc. some over 13, but most are under 13″, and early season we see more does. We ask each hunter to take their doe, but it is not a rule we enforce, usually don’t have to worry too much about it.

    We had one mature buck about 3 or 4 years ago that counted 13 points, and had great mass which is something rarely seen in this part of the country, problem was he was under 13. We never saw that deer again after that year. In fact the last trophy size buck taken off our lease was in 2011. I took a nice 11 point that wondered off a larger non hunted neighboring ranch across the highway.

    So, did the rule produce more does, I would say it did! Did it produce more deer, maybe! Did it produce more mature harvestable deer, I just can’t say it did! Maybe this tear will be the difference, but I said that last year and the year before.

  22. I would like to say that everyone is not in to trophy hunting. If the people want to hunt trophy let them put up the high game fenced and raise their own trophy bucks. Most folks hunt for the meat. The state don’t own the deer, so quit putting restrictions on the majority of the hunters. These deer were hear long before TPW was I think we have to much government control

  23. First of all trophy deer are not a part of central Texas. The food source in this area wi) not produce trophy deer. Many of the bucks will never reach a 13 inch spread no matter what age. If AL we are allowed to harvest are 13 inch or better all we will be left with is the bucks that will never meet the 13 inch law. In return that’s all we will have left to breed and all we will be left with. Soon to have no leg deer to harvest. In my opinion this law should be for counties that have the ability to produce such deer. Central Texas is not that place.

  24. Randall is a moron. To say that many bucks will not get larger than 13 inches is a joke. I’ve hunted all through Central Texas and have seen, shot and observed other hunters shoot really nice bucks. What does not work is shooting every young buck. Is this what you want, Randall?

  25. Why should the government tell me what a trophy is to me. Nothing wrong with number of deer killed as a restriction. Antler size does not have breeding capability. Property owners and hunting clubs can set their own standards if they wish to have “trophy deer”. I’m a meat hunter. I just want to get a nice body size. I have never ate a set of antlers that tasted very good.

  26. The rule is not intended to grow trophy deer. My family has about 80 acres in an Texas AR county. Before ARs too many young bucks were being harvested because the hunters in our area just wanted to shoot anything with horns, which meant all the bucks were young. No older deer to speak of in the herd. The ARs allows us to harvest older deer. Many would not consider bucks with 15-16 spreads trophies, but they are to us and much better than 4-6 point yearlings. Turns out older deer have larger bodies and more meat too. We also shoot does for meat.

  27. Y’all have me concerned. Theoretically, how are you able to measure whether a buck has a 13 inch spread from a deer blind 50-100 yards away? I see the ear picture but what happens if the ears appear inside the antlers but it turns out to be a half inch short? Makes me think I will forego the risk of hunting bucks and just look for spikes.

  28. Chas, you have a good point about bucks that are very close to the legal/illegal mark. I understand this concern because hunters are trying to remain within the buck antler restriction regulations in the counties where they are present, but also trying to put a tag on a deer.

    My personal rule is that if it’s too close to call then it’s too close to shoot. It’s not always easy to do, especially on those bucks that appear to be older, but it’s best to just wait for one that is obviously legal. Or as you suggest, just hunt the bucks that have one unbranched antler (btw, you can shoot two of them in AR counties)… and then maybe that obvious buck shows up.

  29. Shooting spikes with an unbranched antler may be rare in some areas. I have a spike with branched antlers approx 9 in spread. I have other bucks that are 4 pts or smaller spikes. I have an 8 pt that does’ t have a 13 in spread. You have to wait years for that 13 in. Spread. I also do not want to shoot a deer for 2,500 to 30,000 dollars.

    I’ve hunted in TX and never paid over $150. a day to hunt. I was invited to hunt in Germany and shot 2 Hirsch and 4 other deer. I got the trophys, The meat went to the market. You have to go to school to get a hunting license and get educated about hunting and animal life of several species. You learn what to shoot and what not to. I also shot deer in Alabama. I also made 198 out of 200 at the Hunting course. I’M also a 100% disabled vet. who likes to hunt.

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