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Whitetail Genetics

Disease also can cause antler growth to be abnormal. The bluetongue and hemorrhagic diseases often occur during late summer when antlers are growing and cause antler growth to cease at that time. Bucks to which this occurs often have blackened, pithy antler tips for that year. Disease can also permanently restrict potential antler development.

Nutritional and hemorrhagic can damage the digestive tract and prevent an animal from ever obtaining its optimum body condition and antler development. Given proper nutrition, age and no injuries or debilitating diseases, it is genetics that determine the final development of a buck’s antlers! Two deer can be raised together to 7 years of age under optimum nutrition and conditions. One may become a Boone and Crockett deer while the other may only develop into a mediocre 6 or 8 point deer. In this case, the genetic makeup Mother Nature gave them would determine the antler development.

We know there are some geographical areas that consistently produce better quality antlers than others. We also know that, with the exception of antler injury, it is genetics that determines whether a buck will have typical or atypical antlers. Our research has shown that a buck does not always transmit his antler qualities to his offspring. For example, a buck with very poor antler qualities may produce offspring with very good antler qualities and vice versa. This means there is very little that can be done to practically manage genetics in a wild deer population because we cannot determine which deer will pass the superior genes to its offspring. Additionally, even if we could select a “superior” buck, 50 percent of the offspring’s genetic information is supplied by the doe, and there is no way to identify the superior doe!

Research at Mississippi State has demonstrated doe’s are equally, or more important, than bucks to determining the offspring’s antler qualities. This does not mean that we will not manage genetics of the white-tailed deer in the future. In fact, it is probable that we will do so through genetic introduction. However, we first need to better understand through research, such as that being conducted by Mississippi State, what is prudent and wise to do when considering manipulation of genetics in wild populations.