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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Poor habitat and/or nutrition is going to lead to poor antler growth and more spikes. Again, it would be a poor decision to harvest a spike during this time.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time of writing this article, I have been shooting bows for about 14 years. I remember the first time I heard someone mention aiming drills because they were “panicking” when they would shoot their bow. I thought they were crazy. Boy, did I ever find out that my time with target panic was coming.
So, What Is Target Panic?
Target panic is basically being afraid of missing the target, thus causing an anxiety of sorts.
It wasn’t until the Summer of 2018 that I found myself having a problem with target panic. I first noticed it at one of the Total Archery Challenges. My shot process would fall apart every time that I would draw and try to take aim at one of the 3-D targets.
As I fought through the rest of the summer, I forced myself into thinking I could just ignore it, shoot more, and it would get better. I did this nonsense all the way through late fall.
I somehow managed to harvest an elk in early September, with one of the best shots I’ve ever made. Looking back it was a miracle or just luck. That’s the only way to explain it with all the struggles I was having. After elk season, I didn’t shoot much for a few weeks until I was getting ready for archery whitetail season.
This is when things got worse.
From Bad To Worse… To Missing Completely
While shooting one day at a 3D deer target, I started missing completely at 40 yards. I was only hitting the deer every two or three shots! Needless to say, my issue was getting expensive very quickly, at the loss of several Easton Full Metal Jackets. From an archery standpoint, I was pretty much falling apart. I knew then that I had a big problem.
Obviously, everyone reacts differently, but the following is the detail on what happened to me.
Itchy Index Finger…
As I was going through my shot process, I would knock an arrow, attach my release to the D-loop, draw the bow and find my anchor.
After this is where I was a complete mess.
When I would go to acquire the target in my peep, my heart would begin to race, my mind would scramble, and the second that my pin would reach the desired spot on the target, my index finger would have a mind of its own and just yank the trigger.
Basically, I was shooting my bow the same way you would shoot at clay pigeons with a shotgun.
Those who have been in archery for any length of time know that, with all that movement, it was impossible for me to have any type of grouping. I was anticipating the shot so badly, that I simply could not be accurate.
So, If you cannot simply draw your bow, acquire and hold on your target, then squeeze your trigger without anticipating the shot, I am willing to say that you have some sort of target panic.
How I Cured It
First things first… you have to ADMIT you have a problem. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was experiencing target panic, I began calling around to a few of my friends that have been shooting for years. I got several different answers. I also watched YouTube, read articles, Googled information, and tried a pile of other things.
Now, I’m not saying everything that I tried and learned didn’t work. For the most part, it was all great info. But, I wasn’t getting any better. Finally, once I got sick enough of not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, I got in touch with a local pro named Gregg Copeland.
Gregg is a phenomenal coach, who I had met at a few indoor, Vegas-style shoots. He had me to meet him at the local bow shop that had an indoor range, so he could see how bad things really were.
Thankfully, I don’t get my feelings hurt very easily, because my shooting was downright laughable. I also enjoy joking around and Gregg knew that.
After my first 3 shots he told me that he would let me shoot at him at 40 yards and not worry a bit. This is all the more funny if you’ve ever seen Gregg… he’s 6’3”, 350lbs!
“First things first,” Gregg said. “We start with aiming drills.”
Target Acquisition Drill
He placed me 10 feet from the target. He then had me knock an arrow, draw the bow, and hold the pin on the target until I started wavering. I would then let down, rest for a minute, and repeat. I would say that we did this 20 to 30 times. By the end of the aiming drills, I was able to at least aim without completely losing my cool. A huge sign of progress already! Aiming was something I hadn’t been able to do in months!
Tension Release Drills
Next, Greeg had me tighten the tension on my bow release to as stiff as it would go. This forced me to squeeze the trigger until the shot went off, so I that I could no longer “punch” the trigger, as I had been doing.
Now, keep in mind, we never moved back any from the aiming drills. We were still only 10 feet away from the target.
We went through the release drills a good 20 to 30 times. By the end of those, I was able to make decent shots at 10 feet. At that point, Gregg could have told me to stand on my head and I would have done it, because the sequence he had me doing was working!
I was taking each piece of advice like it was gold, and to me it was.
He wanted to see how I would do if we stepped back to 15 yards. Sure enough, in that short time, I was able to repeat what he had taught me and hit right where I was aiming.
After the lesson we shook hands and he left me with instructions of what to do once I got home. Gregg told me to go and set up at ten feet from a target and practice aiming drills every day before I shot a single arrow. He also forbid me to shoot a single shot past 15 yards until I was able to make perfect shots at that distance. I did these exact drills for at least a month.
So, Does It Work?
Following Gregg’s instructions, I rarely missed a single day of shooting. After about a month of nothing but the daily drills, the anxiety finally subsided and I was able to enjoy shooting my bow once again.
I am now able to shoot pie plate groups out past 80 yards. I am not saying I am currently the best that I have ever been, but I am well on my way.
One of the things that I took from shooting with Gregg was how much importance he put on the shot process.
He told me multiple times, “without a shot process, you have no shot.” He said, “without all the right ingredients, you can’t cook what you desire, so you sure ain’t going to shoot what you desire with out the exact process every time.”
Look at it this way, if you are struggling with target panic, with the right methods, and hard work, you are only 3,000 to 6,000 shots away from it being “fixed”, and yes, it is fixable.
Five Steps To Fix Your Target Panic
Follow these steps to begin to fix your target panic:
Hold your pin on the target until you start to waver let down rest 15 to 30 seconds and repeat. Do this at least 30 to 50 times a day before you release a single arrow.
Go Through Your Shot Process
Know how to, grip, draw, anchor, aim, and squeeze the trigger. This is your shot process… master it.
Shoot with in 15 yards of the target and don’t go any farther for at least 2 to 3 weeks.
Once you can go through the shot process and not experience any anxiety, then start with 20 yards and work your way back.
Go Back and repeat steps 1 through 3.
Now, I try and do things that might trigger target panic. For instance, I will shoot at a 3-D deer out to 70 yards, extremely quartered away. I also have a basket ball size target that I will try and shoot at farther distances as well.
By doing these things, I am simply just trying to make myself uncomfortable. This way, I can remember my shot process, regardless of the situation, and still make the shot smooth and clean.
You do the same things at 20 yards as you would at 80 yards, you just have to convince your brain of that. Through this process, I have learned so much about archery and have experienced a whole new love for shooting my bow.
So, having target panic wasn’t so bad after all. I guess you could say there was a silver lining. I have 100% come through target panic as a better archer. Come September, the Elk better be on their “A” game, because I will be on mine.
As a deer hunter, a whitetail deer hunter is a welcome sight, but not necessarily a rarity. But, catching a glimpse of the incredibly rare piebald deer is a scarce and beautiful sight. Every now and again, hunting enthusiasts get to witness rare images of a piebald deer on social media, discovered by a “lucky” select few hunters. This unique deer features impossible-to-miss white markings, standing out like a unicorn in a forest full of horses. In fact, many hunters focus exclusively on these hard-to-find critters – determined to add a new trophy to their collection.
But – just how rare are piebald deer?
What is a Piebald Deer?
Contrary to what many hunters believe, piebaldism is not a combination of a regular whitetail deer and its albino counterpart. Piebaldism is a genetic abnormality responsible for the piebald deer’s appearance. It’s a rare condition that affects less than 2% of the whitetail deer population.
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According to geneticists and researchers, the name “piebald” originates from the word “pie” – short for magpie, a bird in the crow family. The magpie has black and white plumage. The piebald deer has a genetic abnormality, causing patches of white across its body. This patchy look gives it a mixed up appearance, in which the patches, or lack of pigmentation almost make it “bald.” Pie + Bald = Piebald!
Piebald deer come in a range of colorations and variations. There is no stock-standard. Some piebald deer look as though they’ve been splashed with white paint. Others may look almost “airbrushed” or spotted. It is believed that this recessive trait must be carried by both deer-parents, maternal and paternal, in order for the offspring to be piebald. That’s what makes the condition of piebaldism so exceptionally rare.
Piebaldism presents itself in many different forms, varying from moderate to severe depending on the circumstances. While some piebald deer can live normal, long, happy and healthy lives, most aren’t so lucky.
Interestingly, piebaldism isn’t just isolated to deer. Throughout nature, we see many other species experiencing this genetic abnormality, including horses, certain dog breeds, python snakes, moose, bald eagles, and on some cases, even humans.
Piebaldism | More Than Just A Coloring Abnormality
Apart from the strikingly unique coat, a piebald deer usually has other distinguishing features, include shorter-than-normal legs, an arched spine (scoliosis), and a prominent oral overbite. Beyond the surface, a piebald deer normally experiences certain organ deformities, and even arthritis.
According to geneticists, this boils down to something called “pleiotropy,” which causes one single gene to control numerous traits. The affected traits range from pigmentation to bone development and more. It’s not unusual to see a piebald deer with debilitating genetic mutations and severe birth defects. Combined, these factors make it exceptionally challenging for piebald deer to survive in the wild – let alone make it to adulthood.
In one recent case study, Missy Runyan, a New York-based wildlife rehabilitator, was called to the scene of a distressed fawn in May of 2017. The white-as-snow piebald fawn was plagued by severe birth defects, including life-threatening internal genetic mutations. The fawn didn’t live for much longer, but Runyan managed to X-Ray the fawn’s body and detect numerous internal abnormalities. The results showed internal defects that made it impossible for the fawn to survive in the wild.
Piebaldism Vs. Albinism
The genetic causes for piebaldism and albinism differ, something you can easily spot by gazing into the affected deer’s eyes. While an albino deer’s eyes are pink, accompanies by a pink nose and hooves with pink hues, piebald deer have brown eyes, a brown nose, and black hooves.
Piebald deer should also not be confused with melanistic deer, which typically lack brown or white color variations and usually appear to be black across their entire bodies.
While geneticists and scientists are still hard at work to fully understand the genetic mutation that causes piebaldism, one thing is for sure: If you see one, you should count yourself lucky. Few hunters will ever get the chance to get a glance of this rare creature out in the wild.
Piebald Deer | To Shoot…Or Not To Shoot?
More and more hunters are emerging on social media, slammed for their short-lived success at when taking rare trophy piebald deer. In various parts of North America, these rare white animals are seen as “sacred,” and not to be harmed. Certain indigenous communities see piebald deer as “returning ancestors,” serving as a “reminder that something of significance is about to happen.”
There are also various “myths” and “legends,” stating that by capturing and killing a piebald deer, you will “experience bad future hunts,” or, “guarantee your own death in a year’s time.”
Laws Regarding Piebald Deer | Check Your State Hunting Regulations
If you aren’t superstitious, do your homework by researching the rules and regulations of your state. For example, it is illegal to shoot any white deer in Wisconsin, as herds of white deer are rising in numbers, making locals rather protective of the rare animals.
While certain jurisdictions have laws in place to protect piebald deer, among other white animals, many locations allow (licensed) hunters to lawfully harvest these rare creatures without consequence.
According to Brian Murphy, wildlife biologist and the Executive Director of the Quality Deer Management Association, there is no biological reason to protect piebald deer or albinos. Protecting them should not be regulated by the state, but rather, should be the decision of the landowners and hunters.
While piebaldism is indeed rare, population problems are apparently not a concern. Emerging research shows that the act of hunting a piebald deer will have no significant impact on the deer population, let alone damage it. If you would wish to take such a rare trophy (and meat) back to your home, and if it is legal to hunt them where you live, there’s no reason not to hunt piebald deer.
Have you ever seen a piebald deer out in the wild? Leave a comment on this post or share your photos with us here at N1!