QUESTION: Bob, I hunt in Bibb County, Alabama and have read several research studies on the subject of shooting spikes. Many biologists have differing viewpoints, but what are your personal thoughts on shooting spikes? Also, Are there any good current research papers on the subject? - S.H.
ANSWER: That's a particularly perceptive question, and I appreciate the fact you did a little research before asking.
Traditionally, there has been a strong sentiment that spikes are inferior and should be culled to promote better antler growth. We have since learned that's not always the case.
Some research indicates that yearling spikes are merely fawns born later than their peers, or born under conditions of poor nutrition. Given another year or two, they often equaled or exceeded their cohorts in terms of antler growth.
The general rule now is to let them go so they can grow. But there are exceptions to every rule, and Texas provides a prime example. Furthermore, results can vary considerably.
Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW) researchers at the Kerr WMA study conceded that spike antlered yearlings do produce respectable antlers at maturity, but the majority of their resultant offspring will exhibit less than desirable antlers due to the heritability of heterozygous antler traits.
Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI), Texas A&M University (TAMU) and TPW conducted a 10-year culling study (2006-2010) at the Comanche Ranch where they found no statistically significant difference in average antler score for various categories of cull bucks. They also found spring rainfall has a much greater influence.
TAMU, CKWRI and King Ranch researchers found the amount of rainfall and supplemental feed significantly influenced antler growth.
In a TPW study at Chaparral WMA, antler restrictions were implemented to encourage hunters to harvest spikes and mature bucks with less than eight points.
Researchers observed a trend of decreasing inside spread in mature bucks while the average antler score remained stable.
A cooperative study by CKWRI and researchers from the Faith and Comanche Ranch determined supplemental feeding decreased the probability of spike-antlered yearling males in enclosures.
Ultimately, it comes down to local conditions and specific management objectives.
An interesting side note comes from TPW implementation of antler point restrictions in the Post Oak Savannah region of southeast Texas, where the overriding goals were to improve the age structure of bucks and increase hunting opportunity.
They initially implemented a slot limit where a legal buck had one unbranched antler, or a minimum 13-inch inside spread or at least six points on one side.
Results were favorable with regard to improved age structure, but hunters were not taking spike bucks, presumably because they didn't want to burn their tag, especially in light of the improved antler quality and availability of mature bucks.
As a result, TPW considered allowing hunters to take two bucks, one of which must have one unbranched antler.
This, they felt would encourage hunters to spend more time afield, and potentially encourage greater participation from younger hunters.