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Discussion Starter #1
As we approach 2 decades of AR, I really am beginning to think we have high graded the herd. With AR and HR the b/d ratio has to be better then then before they were put in place. Yet I would say at least 75% of first yr bucks I have observed are spikes or y's. Can't see how it could be food as corn and soybeans in any direction and good stem count in the winter apple trees and acorn trees also. People will say in a wild herd they will they will interact with the with deer from other areas so it is impossible to hurt the genetics but we are not talking about 300 acres or even a square mile, we are talking about 46,000 sq miles of AR. Anybody know of a study for an area that large? Some will say that female deer contribute 1/2 of the genetics but they have been also getting 1/2 their genetics from a male so they could be getting hi graded also. Some will say my personal observation of my hunting area is to small to count but every yr since AR without exception the % of 1st yr buck in the harvest has declined. Some will say it is because of more and more older buck but that surely should have leveled out after say a decade yet it keeps climbing. If the herd has been hi graded it is too late to do anything about it, it is what it is.
 

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I think it's a conundrum. Technically the motivation of AR & HR wasn't to produce larger racked bucks per se, that was just supposed to be a delightful by-product of the programs. (Even though that's how the programs are graded by nearly everyone) Any internet/armchair biologist (myself) knows it's supposedly not a good idea to kill off your best "potential showing" younger bucks which is exactly what we're doing by shifting the target focus to them (hence the conundrum). Having said that, in the small area of the state that I hunt, AR appear to have been a huge success at allowing many more bucks to reach maturity regardless of what their rack sizes become, and that's probably a good thing. I think the observation of more spikes and Y's being sighted is nothing more than the fact that there are now more of them still alive because of AR. My opinion is very subjective however because my theories are based on the relatively small area of the state that I hunt. So to answer the question...no, I don't think we're high grading, at least where I hunt.
 

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... I think the observation of more spikes and Y's being sighted is nothing more than the fact that there are now more of them still alive because of AR...

I think you're exactly right TBrom. Another component is that the majority of spikes (and small, spindly 3's and Y's) are late born fawns that are not genetically inferior, they are just too young at 1.5 years to put much nutrition into growing antlers. HR encourages fawn recruitment, meaning that a lot of female fawns are around and are experiencing their first estrous cycle late fall / early winter; their fawns are born late, and many of those will be spikes and small antlered bucks at 1.5 years. The majority of those will "catch up" at 2.5 years.
 

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I think you're exactly right TBrom. Another component is that the majority of spikes (and small, spindly 3's and Y's) are late born fawns that are not genetically inferior, they are just too young at 1.5 years to put much nutrition into growing antlers. HR encourages fawn recruitment, meaning that a lot of female fawns are around and are experiencing their first estrous cycle late fall / early winter; their fawns are born late, and many of those will be spikes and small antlered bucks at 1.5 years. The majority of those will "catch up" at 2.5 years.
I think it's a conundrum. Technically the motivation of AR & HR wasn't to produce larger racked bucks per se, that was just supposed to be a delightful by-product of the programs. (Even though that's how the programs are graded by nearly everyone) Any internet/armchair biologist (myself) knows it's supposedly not a good idea to kill off your best "potential showing" younger bucks which is exactly what we're doing by shifting the target focus to them (hence the conundrum). Having said that, in the small area of the state that I hunt, AR appear to have been a huge success at allowing many more bucks to reach maturity regardless of what their rack sizes become, and that's probably a good thing. I think the observation of more spikes and Y's being sighted is nothing more than the fact that there are now more of them still alive because of AR. My opinion is very subjective however because my theories are based on the relatively small area of the state that I hunt. So to answer the question...no, I don't think we're high grading, at least where I hunt.
This is what has happened in my area of the state that i hunt,much better hunting now in the areas i hunt. good deer population and far more 3 yr old bucks than ever before. and no i don t think high grading is happening in my area either.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Not talking about weather or not there are bigger bucks around I have shot 5 mature bucks in the last 7 yrs and if it were not for a bad back one yr would have been six, I am wondering why after the season every junior buck I have on camera which is about 10 are all spikes or y's and I am being generous with the y's. Where are the junior 5 and 6 pts I used to get 5 yrs ago. Something just doesn't seem right. Even saying this to be honest I would be disappointed if the did away with AR as I only enjoy hunting mature bucks.
 

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When it comes to high grading, think about this.

If it was easy to manipulate antler genetics, you would think that the high fenced operations in Texas would have eliminated "undesirable" antler genetics from their herds decades ago. To this day, they still cull bucks with undesirable antlers. To think that antler genetics have been altered in our free ranging herd in Pa due to antler restrictions is pretty unrealistic.
 

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My biggest buck was close to a 130" 8pt. I have trail cam pics of him every year for 4 1/2 years, I know him because of a distinctly shaped throat patch. As a fawn button buck. At 1 1/2 he was a small fork, at 2 1/2 he walked under my stand as a 6pt wide as his ears, at 3 1/2 he was an 8 past his ears and at 4 1/2 when I shot him he was a 18 1/2" spread. I personally don't think all spikes and forks will be inferior racked deer as they get older.
 

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Most who claim we are high grading fail to understand those big buck have already passed on their genetics in a couple of rutting seasons by the time they are shot, how are we eliminating their genetics again? You can't unbreed them doe by shooting the buck....or am I missing something?
 

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Something else:
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/projects/deer/news/2019/catching-up

Pre-AR was high grading at its max in my opinion. We all know 1.5 and 2.5 year old bucks aren't the wisest of the bunch. Most hunters killed the first legal buck they saw and most of them were 1.5 years old. Some reached 2.5 and very few reached older age classes. Add the fact, according to the referenced article, we had approx. 300k more deer hunters to kill those bucks. Any buck was lucky in those days to survive the hunting season. Hunters put way more energy into killing bucks than does and that isn't going to change.

IMO, we need to get back to taking care of the doe population a little better than we have been in recent years. Proportionally, we continue to target and kill bucks from the population but not enough doe.

We are better off than before but this process will always be a work in progress.
 

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Most who claim we are high grading fail to understand those big buck have already passed on their genetics in a couple of rutting seasons by the time they are shot, how are we eliminating their genetics again? You can't unbreed them doe by shooting the buck....or am I missing something?

Bucks with better antler genetics grow antlers quicker with the proper nutrition. They become legal quicker and die quicker. Those with lesser antler genetics take longer to reach legal status and become the older "wiser" bucks that get to breed more seasons. 1.5 YO spikes and forkies still breed and some say breed more Doe per year than larger racked deer.

Many things come into play. The end resulting rack does not tell the whole story. Sure many and even most end up with nicer antlers when older. But at what cost? Is it worth it to grow a deer for 4 years just to get a nice set of antlers? How many other deer could have lived off the food used by this one deer? On the other hand the deer with better antler genetics that expresses early and quickly would give the same results but at less cost to the overall herd.



In short the slow ones get to breed and pass on the genes to future generations for a longer period of time. This includes passing on to female offspring which down the road become 50% of the make up of future bucks. The quick die young and have less offspring.

Look up survival of the fittest in the true sense and you will see fittest has everything to do with reproduction and very little to do with strength or characteristics when the herd is controlled by humans hunting.

Large antlers may have been desirable for survival when dealing with other animals but it seems the tables have been turned when dealing with man. Waugh!
 
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Discussion Starter #14
Since a greater percentage of surviving first yr bucks are junior hunter bucks, and since studies have shown that spikes and y's don't catch up in antler growth until 4-5 yrs of age, and since the vast majority of the larger bucks shot in pa never reach 4-5 but are 2-3 we are probably shooting smaller bucks then we would be without AR's. I checked trail cams yesterday and got an 18 inch 8 point that the body tells me is a 2 yr old so probably a small 7 or 8pt last yr. I also have a 16 inch barely 8 pt that the body tells me is a mature buck so probably a spike or y a few yrs ago. Getting wobbly on AR'S but not there yet, maybe when we lose another 100k hunters.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Since AR'S were the cause, doing away with them would be the solution, but I have rethought this and now don't think we are hi grading. Reason being my concern was a lack of 5/6 pts but since they were protected also they should be around which they have been few in my area. Not sure why but AR'S shouldn't be the reason.
 

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Since AR'S were the cause, doing away with them would be the solution, but I have rethought this and now don't think we are hi grading. Reason being my concern was a lack of 5/6 pts but since they were protected also they should be around which they have been few in my area. Not sure why but AR'S shouldn't be the reason.
First of all it is virtually impossible to affect the genetics of a free ranging deer herd because ALL bucks, the best and worst, are breeding and passing on their genes before they are available for harvest. Combine that fact with the fact that there is no way to measure the genes the does are passing on and it becomes obvious that you simply can't change the genetic make up of our deer herd.

But, even if antler restrictions could have an effect you would have to factor in the fact that Pennsylvania has always had an antler restriction. The antler restriction that was in effect for many decades protected even lesser bucks, antler wise, than what we have now. It used to be that we were only protecting spikes with less than three inch antlers. And, before anyone says there weren't many of them I will say bologna. Here in Elk County there was a time when a third of the button bucks harvested in doe season were 1 1/2 year old bucks that only had buttons about as big around as your little finger that were less than two inches long. So, if it were possible to high grade a free ranging herd the damage was done over the decades when we only had a three spike antler restriction.

But, antler restrictions isn't about antlers anyway. So with that in mind high grading or not really is entirely a non-issue in the management of our deer herd.

Dick Bodenhorn
 

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First of all it is virtually impossible to affect the genetics of a free ranging deer herd because ALL bucks, the best and worst, are breeding and passing on their genes before they are available for harvest. Combine that fact with the fact that there is no way to measure the genes the does are passing on and it becomes obvious that you simply can't change the genetic make up of our deer herd.

But, even if antler restrictions could have an effect you would have to factor in the fact that Pennsylvania has always had an antler restriction. The antler restriction that was in effect for many decades protected even lesser bucks, antler wise, than what we have now. It used to be that we were only protecting spikes with less than three inch antlers. And, before anyone says there weren't many of them I will say bologna. Here in Elk County there was a time when a third of the button bucks harvested in doe season were 1 1/2 year old bucks that only had buttons about as big around as your little finger that were less than two inches long. So, if it were possible to high grade a free ranging herd the damage was done over the decades when we only had a three spike antler restriction.

But, antler restrictions isn't about antlers anyway. So with that in mind high grading or not really is entirely a non-issue in the management of our deer herd.

Dick Bodenhorn

Think maybe you had too many deer and not enough nutrition? Maybe antler restrictions was not the answer. Maybe just the pacifier needed. Waugh!
 

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Since AR'S were the cause, doing away with them would be the solution, but I have rethought this and now don't think we are hi grading. Reason being my concern was a lack of 5/6 pts but since they were protected also they should be around which they have been few in my area. Not sure why but AR'S shouldn't be the reason.

Better nutrition per deer and the antlers grow. No idea how old those 5 and 6 pointers were before so it is hard to say. Waugh!
 

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Think maybe you had too many deer and not enough nutrition? Maybe antler restrictions was not the answer. Maybe just the pacifier needed. Waugh!
There is absolutely no question that we had too many deer and that the nutritional issues were what was causing the high number of 1 1/2 year bucks having sublegal spikes. That was true back then, for sure, and would be just as true today if we ever went back to over protecting our deer herds as we were back then.

There is, always has been and always will be three major things that influence a buck's antlers.....age, nutrition and genetics.

The genetics will and always have guided what a buck's final and full potential is going to be. The bucks without good genetics will never be as good as the ones with better genetics even if both life to their full age potential. But, regardless of the genetics if they don't have the nutrition, enough high quality food, they will never produce their full potential of body weight or antler growth. Equally true is they will never reach their full potential without the age needed to reach their potential.

As far as the age factor is concerned, even a month or a few weeks of difference in age can make a huge difference in a buck's antler growth during their first couple years. The years' mast or winter snow conditions can also have a huge effect on a buck's antlers, especially during its early years of life while it is still trying to growing body mass. They are going to replace any weight they lost during the fall and winter before sending anything to the growth of antlers. But, all things considered a bucks antlers are generally going to grow a lot with each additional year of age until it reaches its full growth potential in both body mass and antler growth.

Bucks have the same genetics on the day they are born as they have on the day they die and at all times in between. All adult bucks, those 1 1/2 years and older that exist in the fall rut, both the best and the worst, are breeding does and passing on their genes. With all of the big racked bucks being harvested, all across the state, today it is perfectly obvious that there is nothing wrong with the genetics of our state's deer herd.

The fact is simple. High grading isn't happing today any more than it happened with the lesser antler restrictions we had for decades before these more restrictive antler restrictions. The evidence is pretty clear and convincing that high grading isn't possible in a free ranging deer herd.

Dick Bodenhorn
 
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