While most of the country, especially in the east, is populated with white tail deer, here out west many hunters are hunting mule deer. While whitetail deer populations are growing out west, mule deer are the most numerous species. Mule deer offer hunters a unique opportunity to get a much-desired trophy, their antlers. White tail deer have antlers that all stem from a main shaft whereas mule deer have antlers that fork as they grow.
When most people start hunting, their goal is to bag the first buck they spot. While there is nothing wrong with that, when sportsman become more experienced and have had their share of four points, anything less than a trophy buck seems like a failure. Knowing the history of the deer in the area a sportsman is trying hunt and a basic knowledge and antler growth genetics can help guide you to that illustrious trophy buck.
The first thing you need to know is that serious hunting requires an investment of time year round. Spot and stock methods of hunting may work for immature deer, but desirable mature deer require more effort. I have many hunters tell me that they track deer so much they feel as if they know them personally. To the inexperienced hunter, it may seem impossible to tell on buck from another but if you know what to look for in antler formations, you can pick out the same buck year after year as well as bucks that share the same genetics.
The first and most basic thing to remember is that a buck will have the same rack configuration throughout their entire lives. If a buck has a narrow rack, he will continue to have a narrow rack year after year, if it is heart shaped it will be heart shaped the next year. If his rack spreads out and is boxier (which is what most hunters are looking for) then it will have that same general shape year after year. Not that the rack won’t ever change slightly from year to year, but the buck will carry that same configuration throughout his entire mature life. Two main factors that influence a buck’s rack are age and nutrition. If a buck is showing signs of a wide spread it won’t have reached its peak potential. Nutrition is very important; this is why there are so many supplements on the market that promote good antler health in deer. Mild winters and wet springs can be signs of a year that will have above average rack sizes.
Two main indicators of deer with the same genetics are cheater points or signature points. To put it simply, cheater points are disproportional points on one side of the rack. So if a deer has three main proportional points, a cheater point will be a fourth stemming from one vein of the rack. These are common in mule deer because of the way their antlers develop. Mule deer that are genetically similar may also have signature points. Points that year after develop in the same spot in the same way.
Many hunters live in areas that are heavily hunted and maybe biding your time for a buck with a great spread to grow and develop isn’t practical. But for those sportsman who have this luxury, keeping the finger off the trigger and letting that buck grow and develop to reach its full potential can be a once in a lifetime experience.