All young bucks grow larger antlers as they age until some point in their lives when this growth peaks. If managing for larger-antlered bucks, hunters should set age requirements for harvesting any buck. Bucks meeting the estimated age category chosen (4.5, 5.5 etc.) are eligible for harvest; and those who do not should be passed regardless of antler size or shape. If the basic principles of deer management such as balancing sex ratios, reducing herd densities, allowing all bucks to reach mature age classes, and completing extensive habitat improvements are not being addressed, things like “genetics” should never be considered. In fact, unless you hunt a high-fenced property, antler genetics should not be discussed at all.
Many studies, including two from Texas on the King and Comanche Ranches, have proven “culling” did not improve antler size in successive generations. To put things in perspective, from 2006 to 2010 on the Comanche Ranch, researchers using helicopters and net guns captured 2,113 bucks on 113,000 acres and removed individuals based on various “antler culling” criteria. The results after 4 years of intense culling showed no changes in the average antler score for the age classes among treatments. Few properties can replicate this level of management or study further solidifying the fact that “culling” has no place in managing and hunting free-range deer.
Heath Herje is an agribusiness educator for Cleveland County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. He writes a periodic column for The Transcript. He can be reached at 405-321-4774.