Every year hunters put out trail cameras hoping to discover a Boone & Crockett buck is calling their land home. For most of us, it is more likely we see pictures of a deer that has some sort of antler abnormality than a true Booner. The cause behind odd or non-typical antler growth boils down to two main factors, injuries and genetics.
Injuries to the body, pedicles and the antler itself during velvet all have the capability to cause an antler abnormality. The good news is that two of the three (pedicle injuries being the oddball) are typically short term as the deer will grow a normal set of antlers the following season. Abnormal antlers caused by genetics will not “heal”; the buck will likely have unique antlers for life.
This brings me to the often debated subject of the “cull buck.” There has been a long held belief that in order to improve a local deer population, it is necessary to shoot cull bucks. Should you shoot a cull buck? No and yes. If your goal is to eliminate a buck from the population because you want a better gene pool, you are fighting a losing battle. In a wild, free-ranging population it is impossible to control what genes are being passed down because you are not controlling what buck breeds with what doe. More importantly does carry most of the heritable antler traits. However, there’s no way by looking at a doe to know if her offspring consistently produce larger than average antlers.
At The Proving Grounds there’s a buck named Cactus Jack that some might consider a cull buck. We have pictures of Cactus Jack from multiple seasons and his antlers are probably the result of a testes injury. This is commonly the cause of “cactus” bucks. Cactus Jack is most likely four years old and we will happily harvest him this season if given the opportunity. If he was three and a half years old or less, we would pass. Even though one of our goals is to reduce the local herd population, harvesting bucks only has a short term impact.
It is much more effective to harvest does to reduce the population. Besides, even bucks with odd shaped antlers usually produce larger antlers as they mature!