Whitetail deer are amazing animals. I have had a love affair with them for well over a half-century.
I have hunted them, studied them, photographed them and managed them.
On November 9, opening day of our muzzleloader season, I killed a decent, Wilson County, 9-point.
He made me mad, so I shot him. But I no longer consider myself a trophy hunter.
Truth is, I would rather shoot a doe. But let’s talk about, “trophy” whitetail bucks.
They abound in myth and mystery, much of which has been perpetuated by misinformation, intention and companies with a product to sell. I have none of the above.
So let’s start at the basics. To begin, what we know about whitetail deer today, is 200 percent more than we knew just 20 years ago.
To start, there are approximately 30 sub-species of whitetail deer.
Seventeen are found north of the Mexican border. To some extent, their ranges may overlap. Here in Tennessee we have the Virginia whitetail.
Now here is an important factoid: there is a thing called Bergmann’s Rule.
That simply states -- and is borne out -- that the farther a geographic race is found north or south of the equator, the larger the mass of its’ body will be.
That is why we simply cannot produce deer in this area with antlers or body size equal to those in the Midwest or Canada. That is regardless of what we feed them.
It is also true that we cannot produce deer of a different sub-specie.
That means we cannot produce, no matter what we feed or how old we let them get, we will never have deer of the body size or antler mass of the Northern woodland whitetail of the Midwest and much of Canada.
We will not ever have deer the size of the Dakota whitetail of the Dakotas, parts of Kansas and some the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Those are the deer that some deer “experts” will tell you we can have. It is not going to happen. It cannot happen.
What we will have is a strain of the Virginia whitetail-Odocoileus virginianus virginianus, the prototype of all whitetail deer.
And yet, just a week or so ago, young Heath Gilley shot a monster, 13-point-buck, here in Wilson County.
You see, there will always be anomalies.
But…but…we cannot produce them. They just happen.
Here is the solid truth about the deer in Tennessee.
They can only get as big as the geographic location, sub-specie, age and nutrition will permit.
Yes, we can produce the best of those parameters.
But there are only three factors in “trophy management” --
(2) Age and
We can affect age simply by not shooting young deer. We can affect nutrition although very seldom is it needed or of any value.
We cannot influence or affect genetics…or Bergmann’s rule.
There has been and will always be anomalies.
A perfect example is the huge, non-typical buck the young man killed in Sumner County a couple years ago. Or, the one young Gilley killed a couple weeks ago.
Just as occasionally a giant human comes along in any society, so is it with deer. But that anomaly, generally, cannot be transmitted to future generations.
What does all this mean?
In a nutshell it means if you do not consider any whitetail buck with antlers that gross below 150 inches a trophy, you probably are hunting in the wrong state.
In Tennessee and especially here in Wilson County, no matter what you do, producing a buck with antlers over 150 inches is extremely difficult and it has nothing to do with you…except for allowing it to reach 6.5 -- 7.5-years of age. Nothing else you do has any impact.
You cannot provide them with any food supplement that will increase antler growth.
Now a tidbit about genetics. A button buck has the same genetics he will have at age 5.5 years. If he is destined to be a “trophy” buck, he will pass those genetics on long before he is considered a trophy.
His genetic imprint will be the same as a button, a spike, a six-point as they are at when he is a ten-point.
Now here is a mind boggler. The doe provides just as much in terms of trophy potential as the buck.
How do we judge a “trophy doe?” How do we determine which genetics contributed to antler growth.
The above is not supposition. This is pure fact, backed up by any biologist who does not have a product to sell or a job to protect.
Now. Let me leave you with one thought. If squirrels had antlers, there would not be one left in the woods.
So as you head out, as long as it is legal, shoot whatever deer you wish.
That is your right and you are not hurting the trophy potential one bit.