What are the real factors in producing truly big whitetail bucks?
This question has been debated for decades and the fact is there is no one answer. There is however several factors that help create the bucks that inspire hunters to seek them out.
Some of the greatest research ever conducted on deer comes from right here in our own state at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area (WMA) so we checked out some of their cutting-edge research.
Kerr officials noted that there are 3 equally important factors that control antler development in white-tailed deer: nutrition, genetics, and age.
“Antler development is genetically based, environmentally influenced, and reaches its peak at maturity. The key to quality deer management is to remove those bucks which have the least desirable antler characteristics at an early age. Kerr WMA studies show that yearling antlers predict a buck’s antler quality at maturity. Kerr genetic studies indicate bucks with the best antlers will produce more progeny with exceptional antlers than will poorer bucks. The does influence antler production as well. Harvest of older does is important to insure younger does are products of better bucks. Habitat should be managed so that deer can achieve their greatest antler potential. There are no methods to “jump-start” a quality deer program.”
Kerr WMA studies indicate that most actual antler traits are genetically transmitted so ensuring deer with strong genetics have an opportunity to breed is crucial.
“Heritability estimates greater than 0.30 are considered to be moderately heritable, and heritability estimates greater than 0.50 are highly heritable. Heritability estimates for weight gain in cattle range from 0.30 to 0.40.”
Whitetail deer antler characteristics are moderately to strongly heritable
No Kerr WMA studies were specifically designed to determine the effect of age on antler production but there is an interesting anecdote related to the impact of age.
“However, a review of data from the Kerr deer-pen studies indicated that age of the doe had no effect. When age of doe was analyzed by study, no relationship of age to spike production was found. The analysis did show that large numbers of spikes for all age classes were produced by spike-antlered sires.”
What it all comes down to is ranches like the W. T. Waggoner Ranch near Vernon, TX who manage habitat, manage harvest and do their best to ensure quality genetics will produce more trophy-sized bucks than tracts without management.
Landowners who manage their land and herds with the long-term goal of producing quality whitetail hunting will please hunters and create an environment where nice bucks are the norm and super bucks are present.