WHAT CONDITIONS INFLUENCE A WHITETAIL BUCKS GROWTH?
by Tammy Sapp
Whitetail bucks come in a variety of body and antler sizes throughout North America. To learn more about why some bucks have bigger bodies and antlers than others, I talked to Jim Stickles, assistant deer program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Here’s what he had to say:
There are three main factors that determine how big a buck’s antlers and body can grow: age, nutrition, and genetics. Let’s take a look at how these factors can come into play.
As bucks get older, their body and antler size tend to increase until they reach full growth, which generally occurs between 5 ½ to 7 ½ years old. Although bucks can live several years past maturity, in hunted populations they often don’t live more than 5 ½ years.
When bucks are born can also make a difference. In Florida, due to wide ranging breeding dates throughout the state, fawns may be born as much as 7 months apart in the same year. Bucks born earlier in the year have more time to grow than those born later, and as a result, tend to have bigger bodies and larger antlers.
Bucks that eat good food tend to grow bigger bodies and antlers, especially when high quality food is available year-round. Often, weather plays a role in what food is available. For example, summer droughts can kill plants or make them dormant, making high-quality food harder to find. This results in bucks that weigh less and have smaller antlers compared to years when weather conditions are more favorable.
Another important nutrition factor is soil quality. Deer primarily eat plants, meaning the nutrients they take into their bodies are extracted from the soil by the plants they feed on. Areas with fertile soils will produce more high-quality plants. In addition, farmers are more likely to plant their crops in nutrient-rich soils. These crops can provide high-quality food for bucks, which results in greater body weights and larger antlers.
There are 17 different subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America. Northern subspecies generally have larger bodies and antlers than southern subspecies. Genes for antler growth are passed to the young from the father and the mother. Although genetics are an important factor in determining how big a buck can get, they are the factor that hunters have the least control over.
Hunters can influence the size of bucks in an area by allowing young bucks to grow and by providing year round nutrition. So wildlife managers concentrate on understanding the preferences of hunters, managing deer habitat and setting regulations that allow hunters to have the best possible experience when they go afield.
For more information on deer and deer management in Florida, visit www.myfwc.com/deer.