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Deer Genetics

A Deer Management Article

Written by T.R. Michels


The fawns are growing and should be following the does back and forth to food sources; all the deer should be feeding on preferred foods. The buck's antlers should be noticeable by now.

For a number of years deer experts believed that spike yearling bucks possessed inferior genetics and would never produce "respectable" or trophy racks. Because of this belief game managers and hunters alike have promoted the idea of culling the spikes from the herd to improve overall genetics. The feeling now is that many spikes may be late born fawns that just don't have time to produce larger racks their first year.

A buck's rack doesn't keep growing until it reaches a certain size and then stop each year. It grows until lengthening daylight hours increase hormone levels, which causes the rack to stop growing and harden. Because the rise in hormone level stops the growth of the rack at about the same time in most bucks, those that were born a month or so later have less rack growth their first year. During their third and fourth years, late born bucks usually have the same rack growing time as other bucks, and they may produce normal sized racks.

In one study, when bucks were given supplemental feed and minerals, most of the bucks produced four to ten point racks during their first year. But there was one buck with a spike rack. With continued supplemental feeding and mineral all the bucks produced bigger racks each year, including the spike. In fact, in the fourth year the spike produced the largest rack of all. This proves that the only way to find out what kind of a rack a buck will produce is to let it grow until it is 4-7 years old.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a deer breeder who is producing Boone and Crockett racks on 2-3 year old bucks. He tells me this he is able to do this because he carefully selects fast growing bucks with good antler genetics and breed them to does with good antler genetics. The deer are also provided with minerals and receive supplemental feed throughout the year. The breeder says that producing bucks of this quality is difficult with wild deer, because they don't receive the same nutrition, and it's hard to keep track of genetics.

I also asked the breeder whether he thought the high wide 8 point bucks on my property would ever grow 10 point racks. I had suspected for years that these older 8 point bucks would never grow a 10 point rack. The breeder confirmed my suspicions and said that, in his experience, older 8 point bucks rarely produce 10 point racks.

Because of this conversation I have decided to take out all the bucks on my property that don't grow 10 point or better racks, in an effort to increase trophy quality. I know that not all areas produce 10 point or better racks, but, if you see older bucks with racks smaller than the average in your area I suggest you harvest them, out so they don't contribute to the genetic pool.

Doe Harvest
An easy way to improve genetics is to harvest the older class does. The faster you turnover the doe population, the faster genetics can be improved. A buck gets half its genetics from its mother, so if older does are continuing to produce fawns, the same genetics (which may be inferior) are passed on. In a herd with the right age structure 50 to 60 percent of the does that are taken each year should be 2 1/2 years old or younger. This will produce a doe herd with an average age of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years, which will cause the entire doe herd, and the genetics, to turnover in about 3 1/2 years. When you turnover the doe herd, and protect the better bucks, genetics will change quickly.