Good & Planty: Age and nutrition can affect wood, but genetics is the key

Good & Planty: Age and nutrition can affect wood, but genetics is the key

Unless you’ve been pouring protein pellets like candy this Halloween, the last thing most deer hunters expect to see this year are bucks with quality wood.

Sometimes, however, the stars align and an unexpected quality dollar comes in. Sometimes a deer you were hoping to be trophy-class this year ends up disappointing.

The latter was the case for Cord Burnett of Yantis’ opening weekend when he won a 9-point dollar in Wood County scoring 120. Although not considered a quality trophy in some parts of the state, on 110 acres of land in northeast Texas where the average score for a 5-and-a-half-year-old in the 120s isn’t bad.

The kill was the culmination of years of observing the age of the male. Burnett expected this to be the age when he would be a quality mature male.

“I got it when I was about 5. I’ve been watching it for two years,” Burnett said.

When he first saw the buck he was a 10 point, but only about 14 inches wide. This year he had it in front of the camera with an 18-inch width, but only a 9-pointer with a shorter prong length.

“I checked the game camera on October 1st and hadn’t seen it. Then I got Halloween photos. Then I got two more at 9am and 9:10am. With the change hour, I knew it was going to be around 8 a.m.,” Burnett said.

Burnett is the owner of Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort, and with his open season, he generally works seven days a week. However, with the arrival of the deer, he decided to take a quick trip to hunt, knowing that if he didn’t show up at his usual times, he would have to back off and leave.

He had seen three other males alone before the male emerged just before 8 a.m., minutes before his quitting time. He took a quick look to identify the male, and within 30 seconds he had him down.

For a small acreage, Burnett said the farm had good genetics.

“There are two other deer out there with pretty good teeth. They are only 14 inches wide, but they are only 3 and a half years old,” he said.

But genetics can only bring a deer so far. In a year like this where deer have struggled to find food throughout the antler growth cycle, it’s no surprise that Burnett’s deer antler quality has slipped. There are several things that go into growing antlers, including age, genetics, and food.

“As you know, all three are important, and how they interact plays a critical role in the quality of antlers a buck will develop,” said Alan Cain, deer program manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Having said that, I have to say that genetics is the most important factor. The male must have the genetic potential to grow large antlers.

Cain explained that if a male’s genetics limit his potential to an average of 8 points, no amount of food or even age will change that. This male is destined to be an 8 point. Others will be quality dollars year after year, no matter the conditions.

“He must have the genetics that give him the potential to grow big wood,” Cain said.

That said, Cain added that all three factors are necessary for the dollar to reach its maximum potential.

“In poor years you can have a buck that still produces exceptional antlers, a trophy by anyone’s standards, but that buck is probably not maximizing his genetic potential due to poor nutritional conditions. Think about what this buck would grow in a good nutritional year, versus a bad one. So nutrition still plays a role, even for males with excellent genetics who will still produce good antlers,” the biologist said.

Age is also key, with antler growth peaking at 6½ to 7½.

“So if you harvest that male at 3½, you’ll never give him the chance to see what he can become when mature. When considering age and antler quality, it is sometimes helpful to think in the context of this buck’s cohort, how big his antlers are compared to other bucks in his age cohort,” Cain said.

In some ways, the view of a trophy has been skewed by pen-reared deer and heavily protein-fed bucks in situations where they are protected until they are 6½ years old or older. But in the real world, on 110 acres in Wood County, there is an old-fashioned reality where a 120-inch buck caught in a tough year is indeed a veritable trophy.

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