Bigger Buck for Your Bang
Conversations around deer camp inevitably get around to management practices designed to increase the antler size of white-tailed bucks. Discussion usually includes the latest clover seed guaranteed to do everything except produce fawns, minerals that will draw bucks from miles away, and feeders that are activated only by deer scent. How often do you hear a discussion of buck age structure, though? Not often, primarily because no one can sell it to you. Millions of dollars are spent on advertising food plot seeds, minerals, supplemental feed rations, feeders, and–more recently–genetics. Because time is not a marketable item, it is rarely promoted.
Buck Biology 101 teaches that the three factors influencing antler quality are nutrition, genetics, and age. Though all three factors interact, only one at a time most limits a herd. In other words, there is a limiting factor that constrains antler size in the herd that you hunt. Management applied toward the other two factors without addressing the most limiting factor is an inefficient application of time, effort, and money.
If you are interested in this article, you probably hunt or observe a deer herd. Obviously, nutrition at some level is available to these animals, and they occupy some amount of habitat. Understand that if you degrade the habitat, you harm the herd. But if the herd you are interested in resides in south central Oklahoma or north central Texas, then the limiting factor constraining buck antler size most likely is age. Historically heavy buck harvest is the cause; many bucks never get to grow their second set of antlers.
What increase in gross Boone and Crockett score (BC) can we predict by allowing bucks to get older? There is surprisingly little published information from deer of a known age. Twenty-three yearling bucks in Mississippi (Jacobson, 1995) were held in pens, and their BC was measured yearly until they were seven (table 1). On average, these bucks' BC increased every year through age five, then declined. The largest average increase was between their yearling and two-year-old antlers.