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.
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!
This hunting season has been nothing but hard work, patience, dedication… 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.
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
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.
My boyfriend came to help me track. We bean 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!