Bucks and genetics — Mother Nature can’t be outwitted
In my opinion, one of the biggest misconceptions in the deer hunting world is the idea that we can alter the course of genetics through the selective culling of “inferior” bucks. In fact, not only is that illogical, but sometimes the mentality behind it irritates me a bit.
First, let’s define the theory behind selective culling to eliminate bad antler genetics. The thought is that if an individual buck shows signs of antler “inferiority,” then it’s a good idea to remove him from the gene pool so that he doesn’t pass them on. From where I sit, there are several flaws in this theory.
In every species, two parents are necessary to produce offspring. Genetic traits are combined from both to create unique strands of DNA. In fact, does are just as responsible for antler-coding genes as their counterparts. This means that at conception, a doe is also programmed with
these genes, which will in turn be passed on to her future offspring.
We also must consider the recessive genes in an individual buck. That buck’s antlers may not be considered ideal, but he still may be a carrier of prime antler-coding genes that he may pass along.
Probably the two biggest misconceptions about culling to improve antler genetics are the “spike” debate and environmental influences. Each can be separate, but they can also work in tandem.
It’s a widespread notion that if a 1.5-year-old buck exhibits only spikes for antlers, then he is genetically inferior and will always have mediocre antlers. Therefore, he should be eliminated from the herd. However, there are many studies that dispute this theory.
Outside influences can be a harsh reality for free-range deer, and can have dramatic and negative impacts on their health and physical condition, including antler production. These blows to a young buck’s forming antlers could range anywhere from inadequate nutrition from their mother in-vitro and in the early stages of life, to an injury or parasites that can also be harmful to antler growth.
But, that doesn’t mean that the buck will forever be subject to inferior antlers. Genetics have nothing to do with the environmental influences that can trump genetics. That 1.5-year-old spike may have the genes for the greatest antler potential that ever was, but some type of outside
influence took its toll and prevented those genetics from emerging. However, redemption may come later provided the environmental circumstances are optimal, allowing those superior genetics to reign supreme. Who knows? That young spike may have the capacity to be the next
world record, but if he’s eradicated because it’s been unjustly determined that he has inferior genetics, he will never achieve his true potential, or the opportunity to pass on prime genetics that were mistakenly deemed second-rate.
More on this complex and debated topic in the upcoming issue of Illinois Outdoor News, including eye-opening logic from Dr. Steve Ditchkoff from Auburn University.
“Spitting into the ocean will raise sea level, but not by any measurable amount,” says Ditchkoff, when discussing the probability of altering genetics in wild whitetails.