November 2015
Outdoor Life

Management for a Monster Buck

Adding protein to their diet will promote antler development in whitetail deer.

 
White-tailed deer antler growth cycle taken from Univ. of Missouri Extension Antler Development in White-tailed Deer: Implications for Management.  

Every hunter knows the thrill of catching that first glimpse of a monster buck. Your heart starts pumping, you catch your breath and your palms go sweaty. It’s a moment that is hard to forget. But what few realize are those exceptional racks don’t just happen by accident. It takes careful management to develop bucks into memory makers.

Antlers, unlike horns, undergo a cycle of shedding and regrowth each year. Males typically shed their antlers in the late winter/early spring in response to increasing daylight and decreasing testosterone levels. Regrowth begins immediately as the body mobilizes nutrients to restart the process. Early growth antlers are high in water and soft to the touch. They are made up of roughly 80 percent protein and only 20 percent ash (minerals). During late summer antlers begin to contain more minerals and harden. Growth continues until late August or September when the decreasing daylight triggers blood flow to cease and the drying of the velvet. And as you know, velvet is shed to reveal the hardened antlers.

Antler growth is dependent on three factors: age, nutrition and genetics. Since you can do very little to influence genetics at your hunting club, let’s focus on what is within our control, age and nutrition.

 
  Antler growth is directly correlated to maturity and maxes out around 6 years of age. (Taken from Univ. of Missouri Antler Development in White-tailed Deer: Implications for Management.)

As bucks mature, they exhibit better antler development. First year fawn bucks start to see growth of "buttons" at around 4-5 months of age. Most male deer show their first noticeable racks at 1-2 years of age and these can range from spikes to several points. Typically, males increase in antler size every year up until about 6 years of age. Therefore, in order to increase the pool of bucks with large racks, it is essential to allow enough males to fully mature. Many clubs and landowners achieve this through implementing a minimum criteria for harvest. This could be number of points, spread, antler score, etc. There are resources online that can help you to develop criteria to better manage your own deer population for optimum maturity.

The other factor in antler development you have the power to influence is nutrition. The process of antler growth and shedding is nutritionally taxing for bucks. Mother Nature helps in this respect in that the period of growth (spring/early summer) is the period when forages, forbs and browse are often at their peak nutritional quality. However, we also know that Mother Nature is fickle and doesn’t provide this bounty consistently from year to year. For this reason, planned food plots and supplementation are so important, especially during trying environmental conditions.

Supplementation in terms of food plots, bagged feeds and supplement blocks is crucial for consistently large racks year after year. Because early antler composition is mainly protein, protein intake during spring and summer months is crucial for final rack development. One study showed a 20-inch difference in antler size between two groups of 4-year-old bucks fed an 8 percent protein diet versus a 16 percent protein diet. Mineral and vitamin supplementation is important not only in terms of the hardening of antlers, but overall to enhance rumen microbes’ ability to efficiently utilize other feed sources. Bucks receiving proper mineral and vitamin supplementation will have the building blocks they need for overall health and vitality. And as we all know, a healthy buck is going to eat more, thus ingesting more protein and enhancing antler growth, and so on.

The SWEETLIX Corn-Lix Deer Block contains 10 percent crude protein in addition to visible whole corn for energy along with essential minerals and vitamins. These convenient pressed blocks can be placed anywhere on your property where deer congregate. While these blocks are designed for year-round supplementation, they are especially important during spring and summer months due to the nutritional needs of bucks at this time. The use of blocks like these is particularly important during dry periods or any other times food plots can’t keep up with deer demands. Using SWEETLIX Corn-Lix Deer Blocks is just good insurance to make sure deer on your property are getting what they need to produce the trophy deer you are looking for come next hunting season. Ask for SWEETLIX Corn-Lix Deer Blocks by name at your local Quality Co-op or visit www.sweetlix.com or call 1-87SWEETLIX for more information.

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.