QUESTION: As a general rule, when you see a spike that has 3- to 4-inch spikes, what age is that deer? Do first-year bucks born in May and June produce spikes? — Dan
ANSWER: As a general rule, a deer with 3- or 4-inch spikes is a yearling, probably somewhere around a year and six or seven months old, depending on what month it was born, and when you see/shoot it.
This old Alabama bruiser was conservatively
aged at 8-plus years old.
Most fawns will have leathery pedicels or buttons their first fall, but a few actually have tiny hard-bone nubs protruding just above the skin.
Older deer with poor genetics or well past their prime might have spikes, but they are typically much longer. I once killed an 8-plus-year-old buck in Alabama that had spikes more than a foot long.
The second part of your question is a bit more complicated, as there are so many variables affecting what causes spike antlers. Late-born fawns enter winter in poorer condition than their older cohorts, which could hinder antler development through the next year. Poor nutrition could also result in yearling spike bucks, as could a genetic predisposition to grow spikes as a yearling, although the latter is uncommon.
Countless studies have been done on yearling spike bucks, and nearly all have shown that, later on in life, these bucks will eventually catch up with, and can even surpass, their peers in terms of antler quality.