QUESTION: My son-in-law and I are having a disagreement. Is there such a thing as a cull buck on public hunting land? He said they will all grow up about the same if given time, I disagree. Your reply will put this to rest.
ANSWER: Far be it for me to get in the midst of a family feud; and I doubt my response will entirely satisfy either of you.
First, one must define what is meant by a “cull” buck, as that can be extremely subjective, and dependent on variables like specific management objectives and personal expectations.
Historically, yearling spike bucks were considered inferior - one definition of a cull buck. The thought was that they should be culled out in deference to branch-antlered yearlings. We have since learned that yearling spikes may merely be late-born fawns that simply didn’t have time to develop larger antlers in their first year. Studies of captive deer showed that in a year or two these “cull” bucks caught up with, and in some cases exceeded antler growth of their more well-endowed peers. There are exceptions, and research from Texas has shown some justification for culling yearling spikes in certain habitats.
Annual fluctuations in rainfall and nutritional quality can also influence antler growth. A drought, for instance, might produce more bucks that some would consider “cull” bucks. With sufficient rainfall, they may recover the following year.
Age is another factor; and age and nutrition can sometimes work together, or apart. In a good season, in good habitat, you may have yearling bucks sporting six- or eight-point racks. The fall following a hard winter may result in older deer with smaller than average racks.
Injury and disease can also result in poor, abnormal or non-typical antler growth, possibly producing a buck that would meet someone’s definition of a cull buck.
Having said all that, there is a tremendous amount of genetic diversity in any whitetail population. There will always be some bucks that just never grow racks comparable to average or above average specimens in the same population. The rub, if you’ll pardon the pun, is determining in the split second that a shot opportunity presents itself, whether the buck you’ve set your sights on is above or below a gross average for deer of its age class in the area you hunt.