Selective Harvest To Improve Antler Size In The Wild Doesn’t Work

Andy R. from Georgia writes to ask about improving the genetics of wild deer. “I see hunters shooting cull bucks to improve antlers on some television hunting shows filmed in Texas, but will that work in my state? Actually, is it possible to improve antlers by shooting inferior small bucks anywhere?”

Dr. Dave Samuel

That’s a good basic question and there are data on the subject. But, the data are from a controlled herd in a pen. Researchers fed buck fawns and yearlings a deficient diet with about half the protein that they normally need (6 percent instead of 16 percent). The thought was that the buck that grew the biggest antlers, even though nutritionally stressed, must have the best genes. Then they took those bigger bucks and used them to breed the next generation. The does that produced the smallest antlered bucks were removed leaving the does that produced bucks with the biggest antlers. After eight years they found that bucks had 3.2 more points than a control group, and a 36-inch increase in Boone and Crockett scores. So, selecting the right bucks and the right does gave them positive results.

These researchers than developed a computer model and found that using this same approach of selecting good bucks and good does for breeding, in a wild situation, there was no increase in antler size, even after 20 years. They concluded that selective harvest to improve antler size in the wild doesn’t work. One probable reason is that you just can’t duplicate what it took in a penned herd to get antler improvement. You can’t select does at all, and you probably can’t select the bucks as they did in the pen. So, bottom line, if you want to improve antler size, focus on age and nutrition. We know that works.

Keep up with the best hunting tips on Guide Outdoors and make sure you visit Sportsman’s Guide for our selection of deer hunting gear.

Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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