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 AR 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 AR's 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 AR's is the fact that ARs 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 ARs 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 AR 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 spoke of finding "a good nick."
The "good nick" could be found between two individual dogs, or it could be between lines, or families.
Now 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.
But 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, bred to bring out desirable qualities; 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.
(And further, maybe the gene for the large-racked buck is carried in the female, in the doe, and not the buck!)
And 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% 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.
Oak Duke, publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter, writes a weekly column, appearing Sunday on The Outdoors Page. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Antler Restrictions: Good intention, bad idea
Jul 31, 2009 at 12:01 AM Jul 31, 2009 at 11:43 PM