Antler restrictions a bad idea
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Antler restrictions are rules set by state game managers or private landowners on deer hunters, defining what is a legal buck by a measurement of the buck’s antlers.
Some antler restriction systems are based on counting points on the antlers, such as in Pennsylvania. Other systems are based upon antler spread.
One of the main reasons that antler restrictions have gained momentum in the deer hunting community is that the proponents promise to the larger deer hunting community that by shooting larger antlered bucks, the process will produce larger bucks in the future.
Despite anecdotal evidence, the premise that the regulations will produce better deer hunting is another case of a noble and worthy idea being ravaged, if not murdered, by a ruthless gang of facts.
One of the main stumbling blocks with the notion of antler restrictions is the fact that it creates a phenomenon called “high grading.” High grading is when hunters, in effect, skim off the best of the young bucks, leaving the poorer quality animals to do the breeding.
In populations with antler restrictions in place, such as Pennsylvania, the superior youngster, such as a yearling eight-point buck, is legal, and yet a four-year old four-pointer is not legal.
So the young, best bucks are continually removed from the herd, leaving the buck with the smaller headgear to do the breeding.
An answer has been proposed to remedy this problem of high grading: Culling.
Culling is a theoretical practice of creating balance in the buck population by cutting out the inferiorly racked whitetails from the herd after the best and biggest racked, especially those precocious youngsters that have made it physically to the minimum antler restrictions threshold, have been taken out.
However, culling of whitetail bucks as a means of relieving the impact of high grading is also built on a faulty and incorrect premise.
Anyone who has experience in the breeding of animals for a specific quality knows that there is a large element of mystery and magic surrounding the right formula for success in improvement of individuals.
Old bird dog breeders, with much experience in the breeding and training of champions, speak of finding “a good nick.”
The “good nick” could be found between two individual dogs, or it could be between lines, or families.
But breeding bird dogs for superior qualities would seem much more complex than breeding whitetail deer. Bird dogs are bred for qualities of scenting, style, bid-ability, intelligence, conformation and intensity, to name a few.
Whitetails are bred for one quality, and one only: a large rack.
However, the dynamics of real game management are the same, whether breeding bird dogs or whitetails.
The culling of bucks only, as a way to improve the size and points on subsequent antlers, by shooting those with smaller antlers does not take into consideration the importance of the female into the genetic mix.
Does are as important as bucks in determining the trait of larger racked animals. Like bird dogs, horses, racing pigeons, dairy cows, beef cattle or any animal for that matter, the female has as much to say about genetically determining the offspring as the male.
So culling bucks to balance out high grading is as faulty an idea as antler restrictions itself is to create better bucks in a wild deer herd. Further, maybe the gene for the large-racked buck is carried in the doe, not the buck.
Though bucks carry distinctive racks so that individuals can to some degree be tracked and graded, does are very similar in a given population and extremely difficult to identify as individuals.
Most hunters have a difficult time correctly judging the age of a whitetail deer, especially does. Deer vary little from one another in a geographic area in size, color, markings and physical qualities. Only hunters and game managers with tremendous experience are able to determine the age of a deer with 90 percent verifiability.
So selectively culling out does with genes programmed to produce bucks with small antlers, or with few points is even less practical, doomed to fail at attaining its specified goal, no matter how worthy, fashionable, and popular, than the attempt to improve antler quality by taking out certain bucks.