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12/7/16- To Cull or Not to Cull?

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist,

The “December doldrums” are upon us in South Alabama, or at least that’s what the old timers like to say. They believe that the month before the rut is when you see the least amount of movement in the deer herd. Quiet times like this make many hunters’ trigger happy and they take it upon themselves to kill “cull bucks” at this time. Cull is a term that has evolved over the years for bucks that many hunters believe have reached their potential and their rack just won’t suffice. I would like to give a little insight on this term and the science behind it when dealing with free-ranging deer.

Imagine that you are sitting in a stand and out prances a spike. Instantly, you know that is a young buck (maybe 1.5 years old) and you will let it walk. Forty-five minutes later, a five point walks out. To the naked eye, his rack looks a little funky (he only has one long cow horn on one side and a typical antler with four points on the other side). Some hunters would automatically label this deer as a “cull buck”. Hunters such as this believe that the buck has bad genetics and should be eliminated from the herd before he passes his bad genes on. But what is so different from this five point and the spike? There are three things that contribute to antler growth in deer; it is age, nutrition, and genetics. Until you are sure of the first two, you cannot contribute a wacky rack to genetics. You also cannot eliminate the possibility of an antler injury in velvet or a leg injury. Furthermore, does also contribute to the gene makeup which makes it a little unfair to eliminate the buck for bad genetics when it takes two to tango (if you know what I mean). Perhaps you let this five point walk and next year he’s got a whole new set of antlers and their looking pretty promising…dead bucks cannot reach their full potential. Here in Alabama, it is safe to say that most hunters would classify a 2.5 year old deer as mature. Mature doesn’t mean that they have reached their potential. Most bucks will continue growing their antlers until they are 7 or 8, granted they get the opportunity. However, for them to continue to grow, they must have sufficient nutrition. PROTEIN, PROTEIN, PROTEIN. Protein is the most important element to a buck’s big antlers and a snowballs chance in hell of surviving winter. Of course protein is not the only thing important to the buck’s nutrition, but it is a large part. This all goes back to year round supplemental feeding, but that time has already come and gone. With that being said, unless you know without a shadow of a doubt the exact age of a buck on hoof (which is a task within itself) and you are sure that the nutrition on your property is absolutely perfect, can you be sure that the buck you are about to “cull” has bad genetics? Are you positive that he did not have an antler injury in velvet? I bet if you were to let him walk, you would be surprised at what you see next year. Don’t get me wrong, there are just some pitiful deer out there with crab claws and baseball bats for antlers, but that is usually not the case for the five point or the three point that most likely has not reached his potential.

Give them a second chance! Don’t ground check them just because you’re petrified that they will spoil your herd. I have good news, deer travel far and wide especially during the rut. That one funky horned deer is not going to ruin your herd. Chances are it will be a long time if and when you see him again. So please don’t try to control the gene pool with a bullet, it won’t produce the results you are wanting! Let them grow. Age, nutrition, and genetics control antler growth and you can only contribute to their age and nutrition, so do your job and they will do theirs!

By: Red Clay

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