The Management of Spike Bucks in a White-Tailed Deer Population


As Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists, we often receive calls from hunters or land managers asking if they should or should not harvest spike bucks. The caller has usually read an article that says it is genetics or nutrition or being late born that causes deer to produce spike antlers. “If poor nutrition causes spikes,” the article says, “then you shouldn’t harvest spikes.” The article may state that if a fawn is born late in the fawning season, it will probably be a spike. The article may suggest that it is okay to shoot big spikes because genetic factors cause spikes in older deer, but it says to protect small spikes because that’s a nutritional problem. The article usually closes by relating the experience of someone who raised a deer that was a spike and it grew up to be an eight-point buck. The article’s conclusion is that maybe spikes shouldn’t be killed at all. Our answer to callers is that if they want to improve the overall antler development of their herd, then they should harvest spikes. We often say something like, “If two spikes walk out in front of you in a 2-buck county, shoot the smallest one first and don’t let the second one get away.” Why do we give such radical advice? First, let’s define the terms. We use the term “spike” for any deer at least a year old that has two hardened antlers that do not branch or fork. We don’t use it to refer to a “nubbin buck” fawn that has skin covered knobs or bumps on its head. Buck fawns occasionally have a protrusion of chalky white bone tissue through the skin up to 1⁄2 inch long, but this is rare and we don’t call them spikes. White-tailed deer have their first set of hardened antlers when they are yearlings. While some ranchers and hunters use the term “yearling” to mean a 6 month old animal, biologists are referring to a deer between 1 and 2 years old. At the opening of hunting season a “yearling” would be 1 1⁄2 years old.

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@inproceedings{Harmel2001TheMO, title={The Management of Spike Bucks in a White-Tailed Deer Population}, author={Donnie E. Harmel}, year={2001} }