Ask The Biologist

Spikes ... Again!

Spikes ... Again!

By Bob Humphrey

Will we ever get a definitive answer on the question of shooting spikes?

QUESTION: I have heard different opinions about spikes through the years. For example: “Once a spike always a spike,” “Shoot cow-horn spikes, let the straight spikes walk” (and the opposite). Is there a distinctive suggestion on what spikes to take out, or should we let all of them walk? Here in Louisiana, a couple of us pass up the spikes, and it looks like the same ones are back again the next year. — Scotty W.

ANSWER: This one keeps coming around, in more than one way. Years ago, conventional wisdom recommended removing spike bucks because it was thought they would always sport inferior racks. Since the advent of quality deer management we’ve been able to monitor individual deer more closely, and biologists soon discovered that fawns born late, or in years of poor nutrition, more frequently sported spikes the following year.

Those same spikes, if allowed to grow older, eventually catch up with and in some cases surpass their cohorts in terms of antler size. Then, more research from Texas showed that encouraging harvesting of spikes helped reduce the incidence of high-grading through antler point restrictions.

Meanwhile, other research has explored the phenomenon of bucks with a spike on one side (SOS). For some bucks it’s a one-time occurrence (usually as a yearling) while for others it never changes – and the causes are numerous and varied.

In the end, it comes down to the specific piece of ground you hunt and what your management objectives are.

Regardless of how much nutrition is present, there will always be a certain proportion of yearling bucks sporting spikes. If you let them grow, chances are good they’ll one day sport handsome racks.

There will also be the occasional aberrations: deer that continue to sport spikes on one or both sides as they grow older. Removing them won’t have much effect on the gene pool in free-ranging populations, but it does remove one more mouth from the land as well as provide a successful hunt and some organic protein for the hunter. The key is being able to identify a deer’s age on the hoof.

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Copyright 2018 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd