by Meaghan English, a TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
It has been a weird deer season to put it mildly. Most food plots did not get planted until Thanksgiving then got hit by hard frosts, and now its 80 degrees outside…not exactly the kind of weather I want to hunt in. But it is what it is and some people have knocked down great deer despite the horrible weather (they have better luck than I do I suppose). Recently, a few hunters have asked me why some of the bucks they have killed lack brow tines. At first, I assumed that the deer were young and had not reached maturity or the nutrition was less than optimal. Neither of the above is true.
As I have discussed previously, three things affect whitetail antlers: age, genetics, and nutrition. I went on to say that we can only control age and nutrition; genetics is just part of the hand you are dealt. But after one person asked me about brow tines (or the lack of), it became more and more common as I saw new harvests popping up on social media every day. So I decided to sit down and see what the literature had to say about missing “dog catchers” on mature bucks. I found that a study was conducted at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area in Texas to determine the cause of missing brow tines. In summary, they conducted the study from 1974-1997 and collected yearly antler growth on penned deer. They examined 217 deer from the time they were yearlings (age 1.5) until they reached maturity (age 3.5); they also studied 165 deer from the time they were yearlings until they reached age 4.5. The nutrition was the same for the deer since they were in pens. The biologists conducting the study at Kerr Wildlife Management Area found that yearlings that were only spikes had no brow tines at 3.5 or 4.5 years of age. On the other hand, yearlings that had 5 or more points as yearlings had both brow tines at 3.5 and 4.5 years of age. I think 5 is a little high for Alabama (everything is bigger in Texas), I would say 3 or 4 points for Alabama yearlings. So if it’s not age related and the nutrition was the same for all study groups, it has to be genetics…DING DING DING! The study shows us that brow tines are a highly genetic trait and if this is going on in your deer herd, it’s time to do some serious thinning of the herd. If you have mature deer with no brow tines, they are doing most of the breeding, therefor they are passing on the “no brow tine gene” and it is time for them to go. It is also important to begin harvesting older does to get rid of whatever gene was passed down from the buck that helped create her. If you continuously see mature bucks on your property with no brow tines, you know that there is a lot of work ahead of you and you will have to stick to a strict management plan, but you CAN change the composition of racks on your property (it is time to purchase a “QDMA is practiced here” sign and live by it). Put a few cameras out before the bucks start dropping their antlers and just see what you have. Based on what you see from the cameras (or with your naked eye while you’re out and about), you can make the best management decision for your herd.
Hopefully I answered a few questions regarding brow tines and why they sometimes disappear. If you would like to read more about the study, you can visit http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/wma/wildlife_management/kerr_wma/research/brow_tines_as_a_predictor/ and read the article yourself. It is pretty neat to know that this is a reversible problem and you can create bigger and better racks on your property with some blood, sweat, and most definitely tears.
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