Where Hunting Happens, Conservation Happens™
If a big set of typical antlers were human, I’d like to assume they would be concerned about pairing their wines properly with their entree. Then perhaps they would retire to the study for a discussion of geopolitics in Equatorial Guinea. As for their non-typical cousins, I’d like to think they’d most likely settle for the Miller Lite that’s been rolling around the back of the truck all summer, and then they would attempt a backflip dismount off a rope swing. In other words, there might be something a little wild and unsettling about old Uncle Buck. In a way, that’s precisely the case.
As you know, the Boone and Crockett Club has two categories for antlers: typical and non-typical. The scores of typical bucks are celebrated for their mass and symmetry. The logic being that this is an indicator of overall herd health. For instance, let’s say a particular county in Iowa is producing a high number of typical bucks for the record book. One might assume the populations there are generally healthy. Of course, there are a number of other factors to consider such as hunting pressure, tag allocations, etc. Trends in the record book are just one indicator of overall herd health.
Then there’s Uncle Buck. What do all those stickers and kickers have to do with the bigger picture? Well, a lot actually. Those non-typical racks can indicate various factors in an animal’s environment. Here’s how all that junk comes to be.
Velvet antlers are full of tiny blood vessels, which carry nutrients to the fast-growing racks. When there is a small scrape or nick to the antlers while in velvet, this can cause bumps and other abnormalities. An injury to the pedicle can cause two main beams to sprout on one side. If the injury is severe enough, the antlers could continue to grow in an unruly form for years.
Injuries to major skeletal bones can affect antlers as well. For instance, if an animal’s left rear leg is injured, then the right antler will likely be deformed. If a front leg is injured, either antler might get weird.
They’re called cactus bucks, and they’re not exactly pretty. To make matters worse, their condition is caused by alterations in testosterone levels because of testicular trauma, undescended testicles or disease that affects blood supply to the testicles.
Wildlife managers and hunters in central and eastern Oregon as well as eastern Washington were seeing a rise in cactus bucks between 2013-2016. Officials thought this was a response to EHD and bluetongue outbreaks as studies in Colorado have shown that deer affected by EHD can develop testicular lesions and decreased testosterone levels. Mild increases in testosterone levels are needed to initiate antler growth; high levels are needed for antlers to mineralize and shed velvet. These cactus bucks just couldn’t produce enough testosterone to finish the job. The Boone and Crockett Club does not accept cactus/stag bucks for entry in our records program.
“A nontypical buck will frequently produce a disproportionate number of offspring with nontypical points,” wrote Boone and Crockett professional member Jim Heffelfinger in an article for MDF Magazine. These “genetically-programmed antler oddities,” as Heffelfinger calls them, occur each year as the animal grows a new set of antlers. A nice fat set of palmated antlers can be a genetic trait passed on from either parent as well as missing brow tines. And it’s not always the buck’s fault; both sexes contribute to antler genetics. Keep this in mind the next time you scout an area and consistently see non-typical bucks. There’s likely more going on than antler injuries during the growing season.
The first non-typical whitetail mounted on the star board would turn out to be shed antlers from the deer that is currently the Texas state record non-typical. Shed antlers do not qualify for entry in Boone and Crockett Club’s records program. However, the two images of this buck are a good demonstration how genetics can play a role in antler development.
Antlers, typical or non-typical, don’t get big if there isn’t an abundance of nutritious forage. Once a buck gets enough nutrients to maintain its day-to-day requirements, those extra calories shift to headgear. While it takes one or more of the reasons above to make a non-typical rack, it takes good habitat (and time) to put that rack in the record book.
You’re not going to see many three-year old non-typicals running around. So while Uncle Buck may not be someone you want to bring to your sister’s wedding, they sure are fun to see out in the woods come fall.
“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will.”