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October 7, 2012

Deer antler geneticsMyths surround need to cull young bucks

NORMAN — When the 2012 Oklahoma deer season opened this week thousands of bowhunter’s hit the woods pursuing our state’s most popular game species. In fact, I’m already receiving success stories from lucky hunters having tagged large, mature bucks on opening day. For most, this success came from years of hard work and implementing Quality Deer Management (QDM) strategies.

QDM is hugely popular as more hunters are taking on the role of herd and habitat manager. As with anything, there are myths and misconceptions that may arise over time and deer management is no different. One common question hunters ask regarding herd management is the myth of whether “cull” bucks exist. These hunters are referring to a buck which appears to carry “genetically-inferior” antlers.

This trend in deer hunting likely began with hunters watching shows filmed on high-fenced properties. This myth and others such as “inferior spike bucks” probably began in South Texas where many properties have intensive breeding programs in place and are high-fenced. After watching these shows, hunters then began trying to apply these strategies on much smaller (and much lower-fenced), real-world properties while hunting free-range deer. Under these conditions (most common in Oklahoma) hunters, by implementing these “culling” practices, are only decreasing the potential pool of mature bucks they could be hunting years later. There is no genetic benefit or alteration taking place at a whole-herd level by harvesting a few “scrub” bucks. Removing one or even fifty bucks from a free-ranging herd based on good or bad antler genetics is like taking a drop of water out of Lake Eufaula. You have done something, but what you did made no impact on a broad scale.

Many hunters think a small or abnormal-racked buck is somehow genetically inferior to other “good” bucks when in fact, the deer is likely just young. Remember, the buck in question had a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother that all carried his genes and identifying these individuals in a free-range situation is impossible. Bottom line, the family tree of an individual deer is enormous and there is no way to manipulate it without a high fence.

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