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Once a Spike, Always a Spike

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"Is there any validity to that old notion?

QUESTION: Bob, so you know of any data supporting the notion that once a buck is a spike, it would likely always a spike?

Our hunting group in central New York has followed a self-imposed “outside-the-ears” rule and we’ve noticed antler improvement in the past couple of years.

Once a Spike, Always a Spike

We’ve all heard variations of the once-a-spike-always-a-spike theory and are wondering if there’s any validity to it.

The bottom line is; should we harvest spikes to promote better genetics in our herd? — M.J. Riley

ANSWER: No, not really, M.J. In fact, most scientific data supports quite the opposite notion.

There was a time long ago when it was widely believed spike bucks were genetically inferior and should be culled from the herd. We have since learned that spike bucks can result from several different circumstances.

In many cases, they’re simply late-born fawns that haven’t had as much time as their peers to grow antlers.

Spikes could also be the result of environmental factors, and might be more common in drought years, or areas where high quality food is scarcer.

All such deer studied in captivity, or under controlled free-range conditions, caught up with and in some cases surpassed their peers in antler growth later on.

That’s the general rule, but there are always exceptions.

On rare occasions a buck might be genetically predisposed to only grow spike antlers throughout its life. I photographed one such buck over several consecutive years. 

We also know that antler quality declines in over-mature bucks, and in some cases they might revert to spikes. 

I once took an Alabama buck believed to be at least 9 or 10 years old that sported large spike antlers with only one tine on the left side.

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