spike buck pic

Deer Management Dilemma: Should I Shoot Spike Bucks?

Every hunting season, many land managers, owners and hunters debate whether or not they should harvest yearling spike bucks.  It is an age old debate in deer camps across the country.  

To Shoot Or Not To Shoot A Spike

So what is the answer?  The answer is yes, and no.  

The truth of the matter is that there are times when the harvest of spikes is beneficial to a deer herd, and times when it is damaging.  Each tract of land has its own management needs and determining factors of when and why to harvest spike bucks.

whitetail buck in grass

With proper nutrition, habitat and rain, today’s spike buck could be a future wall hanger. (photo by Jeff Coldwell)

I may be speaking for myself here, but when many hunters go to the stand, they are looking for a “wall hanger” type of buck, not a spike.  However, more times than not, it’s a spike that shows itself first and the hunter gets disappointed.  

Then comes the internal debate: “should I shoot the spike and take his genetics out of the herd?”

Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works.  A bounty of spikes is considered to be a problem, but that isn’t always the case.

I will venture to say that most hunters practice “see spike, shoot spike,” as they believe they are genetically inferior animals.  That is invalid.



See Spike, Shoot Spike?

Steve Nelle, a Natural Resource Specialist and Wildlife Biologist, once analyzed 15 years of records from a central Texas ranch that was practicing “see spike, shoot spike.”  They were harvesting every spike they saw.  After analyzing these records, he determined that the buck size was not increasing because they were reducing the number of bucks moving into older age classes.

Rainfall, habitat, nutrition, among other factors affect buck antler growth.

There are a lot of factors that determine whether a buck will be a spike, 4, 6 or 8 pointer as a yearling, and older in life. These factors include rainfall, habitat, nutrition, carrying capacity, and competition.  

Let’s dive into these factors to determine whether or not you should shoot the next spike you see next deer season.



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Rain Is A Good Thing

To me, the most influential ingredient in spike development (or lack thereof) is rainfall.  Rainfall ties every other factor together.  If your land is experiencing a drought, it would be a poor decision to take a spike.  

Depending on the severity of the drought, the deer herd population could decrease naturally and throw your age structure and sex ratio into shambles.  You’re going to want the spikes to mature into older age classes to see what they become. 

If you have an encouraging amount of rainfall, shooting spikes could be beneficial.  The high rainfall creates a domino effect of good habitat and nutrition, which will lead to buck growth and less population attrition.

Poor habitat and/or nutrition is going to lead to poor antler growth and more spikes.  It would be a poor decision to harvest a spike during this time.

Habitat And Nutrition Are Key

Habitat and nutrition fall into the same category for me.  If your deer herd doesn’t have good habitat and nutrition, survival is going to be difficult, as will antler growth.

The state of the nutrition on your hunting land helps determine whether you should take spikes or not.

There is no way to tell what the potential of a spike is when the property he is living on will not let him get to his full size each year.  When your property does have good habitat and nutrition, there is going to be less die off, and bucks are going to be able to reach their potential for that year.  You will then be able to determine if you should take spikes or not.  Improving the habitat and nutrition on the land is critical.



Carrying Capacity: Herd Numbers And Ratios

Carrying capacity is the next important factor in determining whether or not to shoot a yearling spike.  Here are some questions for you to answer.  

  • Do you have too many young bucks in your herd or do you have a shortage?
  • Can your property handle the amount of deer you have?  
  • Do you have a poor sex ratio?  


If you have a surplus of young bucks, I encourage the harvest of spikes.  The spikes will take up essential food for the other young bucks.  Let the young bucks have that food; they may have a greater potential of becoming your dream buck.  

FYI, a deer eats around 2 tons of food per year.  If you have a shortage of bucks, do not shoot spikes — or at least not every spike!  Again, it is crucial for these bucks to graduate into older age classes to see what they will become.  



Competition: A Buck’s Fight To Survive

The last factor to cover is competition.  When I say competition, I mean the deer having to compete with livestock and other wild game for food, not to mention just finding a way to stay alive!  In the end, the goal of all wild animals is to reproduce and live to see tomorrow. 

Most ranches in Texas have cattle that will compete with whitetail for food.  



Some even have sheep, goats, axis deer or exotic animals.  All of those other animals take away important food and nutrients from deer.  The less nutrients a yearling buck is getting, the greater chance he has to be a spike.  

Predation is a factor as well.  The more predators on the property – such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions – the higher the predation rate on fawns will be.  With a higher predation rate, there is a greater need for each spike buck to mature into the next age class.  


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Did I Mention Rain?

Do you see how rainfall is the catalyst to it all?  Once again, I believe rain is the most important factor when it comes to spike management and deer management as a whole.  Unfortunately, we cannot control mother nature but the more rain a property gets, the better.  

Rain is the catalyst for all deer management.

Higher rainfall totals throughout the year provide growth of vegetation, which equates to thicker habitat for living, survival and higher nutritional values.  

Nutrition is a yearlong need for a whitetail deer, but the more nutritional value a yearling receives from February to September, the better.  

With that said, what is almost always overlooked by hunters is the fact that a buck’s antler potential also comes from the mother’s gene pool.  If the mother doe is stressed and has poor nutrition throughout her pregnancy, the buck offspring she produces will have smaller antlers than if she had great nutrition throughout the pregnancy.   

Final Thoughts

Maybe you don’t have time to manage your hunting property.  Maybe you’re just hunting for meat and antler size doesn’t matter to you.  That’s great!  That’s the beauty of hunting

You can manage how you want to manage, and hunt how you want to hunt (as long as you follow laws).  However, if you do manage your herd, the next time you see a spike and have the mental debate on whether to shoot it or not, think about the the variety of factors that effect that deer and your herd. 

Happy hunting!

Kevin Burke of TX Sunrise Outdoors.
girl with muzzle loader buck

Muzzle Loader Memory | How Hard Work Paid Off On a New Jersey Whitetail

That hunting season had been nothing but hard work, patience, dedication… and rain!

On the morning of New Jersey bow season opener, it was pouring rain, and of course I went out in it… but saw nothing moving in the area. Later, I went back out for an evening hunt and I had three bucks come out to me at the same time, following one another.  However, I was unable to harvest one of those bucks, because for early bow season, it’s “earn a buck,” which means you must harvest a doe first. Nonetheless, opening day was exciting with all the buck action I was seeing, and it gave me even more confidence for the rest of the season.

Wanted: Solo Doe

I sat just about every evening after work, waiting for that solo doe to walk in, and I just was having no luck. I was seeing deer, but they were either too far away, with fawns, or were bucks.

Finally, on September 19th, I kicked off my 2018 hunting season when I harvested a mature solo doe with my bow. I couldn’t have been more thankful!

I continued to check the trail cameras and scout new areas, looking to punch my buck tag. There were numerous young bucks coming to the bait or checking out the area I was hunting, but not any buck I wanted to fill my tag with.  All the bucks I was seeing still needed a few years to reach maturity.



Wanted: Punched Buck Tag

October was about the same as September, as I saw young bucks and does coming in. I was able to harvest another doe that came in with a broken leg and could barely walk.

As I continued checking trail cams, a couple of our shooters were hitting our bait piles or scrapes, but just at night. They became nocturnal and only does were coming during shooting light.  November was coming, and that meant rut season for bucks. And, muzzle loader season was right around the corner.

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I took the time on the weekends to shoot my muzzle loader to make sure it was dialed in for the first days of the season.  I sat both days at the end of November and I was able to lock in on a mature doe, 80 yards out in the field. She only ran about 30 yards until we found her.

The following week for us was 6-day firearm, and I knew that any deer we’ve had on camera will soon be moving all over, so we would likely have a chance to see new bucks come in the area. However, 6-day firearm came and went and I still had my muzzle loader buck tag waiting to be punched. I continued to sit the days that were open for muzzle loader season, hoping to punch my buck tag before the year was up.



Muzzle Loader Season Magic

That day finally came, December 26, 2018 at 3:38 pm! That is when the wait finally ended and I was able to fill my last tag for muzzle loader, and fill it with an incredible buck.  I had to work the morning of the 26th at 5 am until 1:30 pm. I got home, changed, and my dad and I went out to both sit in an evening stand with the muzzle loader.

I got in the stand around 2 pm.  The wind was blowing in my favor, the weather was perfect, and it was quiet. Around 2:20 pm, I kept hearing something to my left but saw it was just some squirrels chasing each other. I turned to look to my right… and that’s when I caught a glimpse of his antlers.



Love At First Crab Claw

The only thing I could see at first was the crab claw on the left side.  When he walked a little farther out of the laurels he turned to look next to him and that’s when I knew he was a shooter.  My heart started to race, my breathing got heavy, and my hands started to shake.  I reached to grab my gun, although very slowly, since he kept looking around curious about something. His tail was going up and down and he acted calm as he walked the area.

I finally got the gun half way onto the shooting rail when he turned to look in my direction.  I thought he could hear my breathing, because in my head, I thought I was so loud. So, I hid my mouth in my scarf and took a deep breath.



Please Mr. Buck, Turn Broadside

I moved the gun up to look at him through the scope.  I still couldn’t believe this buck just walked out in front of me. And, it was a buck we had never seen before. He went 10 yards behind the pile and made a half circle and then looked straight toward me. I had the cross hairs directly on his chest and was debating about shooting him right there.  I thought to myself “he’s going to take two steps left or right to be broad side and that’s when I’ll shoot.”

Sure thing, he took two steps to his left looking to my right, stood completely broadside, and I knew that was my shot.



Breathe… Trigger… Smoke… Buck Down!

I took one last deep breath and squeezed the trigger.  Through the black powder smoke, I saw him jump in the air and do the famous kick, and took off.  I watched him run directly away from me and then I heard the crashing and saw the white of his tail and that was it.

Now, my nerves kicked in again and my heart was racing. I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what had just happened.  My dad heard my shot from across the field and texted me to ask if that was me who shot.

I was in total shock.  We waited a good 45 minutes until we went to go look. My dad stayed in his stand hoping something would come out since it was still early.

woman with muzzle loader buck

I had done it! My first whitetail with a muzzle loader. What a memory!

My boyfriend came to help me track. We had been following the blood trail, and not 50 yards away, we saw his white belly sticking out in all the green laurels.  I couldn’t believe that I harvested this amazing, mature whitetail buck! Especially since it was my first buck with my CVA Muzzle loader!! This was definitely an N1 Moment that I will never forget!

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6-point buck

Defining Success In Hunting | Maybe There’s More To It…

Deer season was nearing to a close and I’d only let one arrow fly all season.

One.

And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.

Since I bow hunt all season long, by that time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, that season was been different than most. I’d had quite a few career-related changes that had limited the amount of times I’d been able to get in the woods.

deer sounds N1 Moment

Hunting has provided many “successful” days. But, what really defines “success” in hunting?

So, how did I feel about this?

Well, honestly, I’ve usually begun to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet.

So, during a season like that one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.

Maturity In Hunting

It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.

I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between?


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Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.

Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But, I didn’t draw.



As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters.

Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information.

Giles Canter of N1 outdoors with archery buck

There is a lot to be learned during every hunt. For me, much of it has nothing to do with deer.

I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.

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It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.

Slowing Down The Pace

Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.

hunting success forest sunrise

Sometimes the hunt isn’t about hunting at all.

Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Whether I’m after whitetail or chasing turkeys, hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time.

Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!

I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.



Listen Loudly

I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.



In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?

Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.



Conclusion

So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. I don’t have to kill a world record to be happy. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.