MISSOULA – This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at what really causes a buck to get big antlers.
As the hunting season is in full swing, many hunters are looking for those big bucks.
Many believe that the biggest and best antlers in a male are the result of good genetics. But it is much more than that.
Overall, there are three main elements in the development of antlers: nutrition, genetics and age.
And the best determining factor for bigger and better woods is actually nutrition.
If a male is getting the right quality and the right amount of food, then his antlers should become big and strong.
Most of the research on the size of antlers related to food focuses on the amount of protein a male receives.
Biologists have learned that billy goat’s fawns need a higher level of protein than older billy goats to help achieve optimal antler growth in their first year.
During this first year, billy goats should have a diet containing up to 20% protein. This is because proteins are crucial for the growth of the body.
Older deer have already developed their bodies and therefore need less protein for the best antler growth.
So, on average, regardless of age, a male should absorb around 16% protein each year to have the best chance of better antler growth.
To put that in comparison, a male eating 16% protein each year will have a 20 inches higher Boone and Crockett score than one who eats 8%.
Let’s move on to age.
Most know that every year deer shed their antlers and that usually new, larger and / or more branched antlers grow back the following year.
A male’s first set of antlers arrives at one year of age. At this point, their antlers will be 10-25% of their maximum future size.
A year later, its antlers can double in size, reaching up to half of their maximum potential in just two years.
And by age three, their antlers reach about three-quarters of their maximum size. It takes about six years to reach their maximum wood size.
So how much does genetics actually play?
Like you and me, a male derives certain characteristics from the genes of his parents.
The size of a goat’s antlers is no different, but it is in relation to its genetic potential.
This means that external factors such as nutrition, environment, and even date of birth can significantly affect the expression of a male’s antler genetic potential.
This makes it extremely difficult to research the impact of genetics on a male’s antler growth.
Antlers grow and fall according to their testosterone levels. And testosterone levels are regulated by the length of the day, also known as the photoperiod.