Wildlife Management Permits
  • MLDP:
    • Managed Lands Deer Permits
  • ADCP:
    • Antlerless Deer and Spike Control Permits
  • LAMPS:
    • Landowner Assisted Management Permitting System

 

White-tailed Deer

Role of Genetics in Antler Development

What role do genetics play in antler development?

Antler Boards

Following is a summary of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department research conducted at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area Deer Pens (a Pittman-Robertson supported research facility).

Spikes vs. Forked Antlered Yearlings

Looking at a buck's yearling set of antlers can provide a clue as to how it will look later in life compared to other bucks born the same year. The 18 antler sets are from 4 year-old deer that were fed the same diet throughout their lives. The 6 sets of antlers on the left were from deer that had at least 6 points as yearlings. The 6 sets in the middle were from deer that had 3-5 points as yearlings. The 6 sets on the right were from bucks that were spikes as yearlings.


Data Table - Deer Antler Heritability

Heritability

Kerr WMA studies indicate that most antler traits are genetically transmitted. Heritability estimates greater than 0.30 are considered to be moderately heritable, and heritability estimates greater than 0.50 are highly heritable. Heritability estimates for weight gain in cattle range from 0.30 to 0.40. Data listed in the table on the right indicate that antler characteristics are moderately to highly heritable.

Bar Graph

Spike Line Study

In a companion study, spike antlered males were bred to does from spike antlered sires. This study demonstrated the effects of not harvesting spikes on future antler quality. All deer in this study were fed a high-protein diet, and 78% were spikes as yearlings.

Antler Boards

Results of Selection

Each board displays 4 generations of deer. All antlers are from 3 year-old deer. From top to bottom are the great grandfather, grandfather, father, and son.

The antlers on the left are from deer that were forked antlered as yearlings and whose dams were from fork antlered sires.

The antlers on the right were from bucks that were spike antlered as yearlings. Their dams were also sired by spike antlered bucks.

Through selection, antlers of succeeding generations were either made larger or smaller.

Age of Doe

No Kerr WMA studies were specifically designed to determine the effect of dam age on antler production. However, a review of data from the Kerr deer-pen studies indicated that age of the doe had no effect. When age of doe was analyzed by study, no relationship of age to spike production was found. The analysis did show that large numbers of spikes for all age classes were produced by spike-antlered sires.

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  Chart

Time of Birth

No Kerr WMA studies were specifically designed to determine the effect of dam age on antler production. However, a review of data from the Kerr deer-pen studies indicated that age of the doe had no effect. When age of doe was analyzed by study, no relationship of age to spike production was found. The analysis did show that large numbers of spikes for all age classes were produced by spike-antlered sires.

Bar Chart

Summary of Results

There are 3 equally important factors that control antler development in white-tailed deer: nutrition, genetics, and age. Antler development is genetically based, environmentally influenced, and reaches its peak at maturity. The key to quality deer management is to remove those bucks which have the least desirable antler characteristics at an early age. Kerr WMA studies show that yearling antlers predict a buck's antler quality at maturity. Kerr genetic studies indicate bucks with the best antlers will produce more progeny with exceptional antlers than will poorer bucks. The does influence antler production as well. Harvest of older does is important to insure younger does are products of better bucks. Habitat should be managed so that deer can achieve their greatest antler potential. There are no methods to "jump-start" a quality deer program.


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