Outdoor Articles

Deer Research: Late Summer, Spikes, Deer Management and A Doe Harvest

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Big Game Hunting

What’s up with the deer now? Are spikes inferior? How hard is it to manage deer for larger racks? Does the doe harvest affect your areas deer herd.

Late Summer

Whitetail fawns are growing and they should be following the does back and forth to food sources, and all the deer should be feeding on preferred foods. The buck’s antlers should be peaking by now. This is a good time to scout, looking for bucks in velvet near their favorite feeding sites.


For a number of years deer experts believed that spike yearling bucks possessed inferior genetics and would never produce respectable or trophy racks. Because of this belief game managers and hunters alike have promoted the idea of culling spike bucks to improve the overall genetics of deer herds. The feeling now is that many spikes may be late born fawns that just don’t have time to produce larger racks their first year, and that spike bucks should be allowed to ream in the herd and grow.

A buck’s rack doesn’t keep growing until it reaches a certain size and then stop. It grows until lengthening daylight hours increase hormone levels, which cause the rack to stop growing and harden. Because the rise in hormone level stops the growth of the rack within a few weeks of each other, those bucks that were born a month or so later have less rack growth their first year. During their third and fourth years, late born bucks usually have the same rack growing time as other bucks, and they may produce normal sized racks.


In one study, when bucks were given supplemental feed and minerals, most of the bucks produced four to ten point racks during their first year. But there was one buck with a spike rack. With continued supplemental feeding and mineral all of the bucks produced bigger racks each year, including the spike. In fact, during the fourth year the spike produced the largest rack of all. This goes to show that the only way to find how big of a rack a buck will produce is to let it grow until it is 4-7 years old.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a deer breeder who is producing Boone and Crockett racks on 2-3 year old bucks. He tells me he can accomplish this because he carefully selects fast growing bucks with good antler genetics and breeds them to does with good antler genetics. The deer are also provided with minerals and receive supplemental feed throughout the year. The breeder says that producing bucks of this quality is difficult with wild deer, because they don’t receive the same nutrition, and it’s hard to keep track of genetics.

I also asked the breeder whether he thought the high wide 8 point bucks on my property would ever grow 10 point racks. I had suspected for years that these older 8 point bucks would never grow a 10 point rack. The breeder confirmed my suspicions and said that, in his experience, 8 point bucks over 4 years of age rarely produce 10 point racks. Because of this conversation I have decided to take out all the bucks on my property that don’t grow 10 point or better racks, in an effort to increase trophy quality. I know that not all areas produce 10 point or better racks, but if you see older bucks with racks smaller than the average in your area I suggest you harvest them, so they don’t contribute to the genetic pool of the herd.

Doe Harvest

An easy way to improve genetics is to harvest older does. The faster you turnover the doe population, the faster genetics can be improved. A buck gets half it’s genetics from its mother, so if older does continue to produce fawns, the same genetics (which may be inferior) are passed on. In a herd with the right age structure 50 to 60 percent of the does that are taken each year should be 2 ½; years old or younger.

This will produce a doe herd with an average age of 2 ½; to 3 ½; years, which will cause the entire doe herd, and the genetics, to turnover in about 3 ½; years. When you turnover the doe herd, and protect the better bucks, genetics in the deer herd can change quickly.

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