Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Question of Genetics

Let me preface this post with a disclaimer. I am not a biologist. I just play one on TV.
Not really, but you understand.

This buck is the 'alpha' in the wild deer herd that frequents my place. He outweighs the other bucks by what looks to be about 30-50 lbs. He looks like he's on steroids compared to the next buck in line.

I have several friends that are hunters that would love to put him in their freezer because of that extra weight.
BUT--there tends to be a code among deer hunters that says you always leave the largest buck for future breeding. That ensures generations of healthy, good looking deer.

In this case, I'm beginning to wonder.
If he is the father of all the fawns that have been born in the last several years, something is not quite right in what he is passing along.
I have observed several things in his fawns for the last 3 years at least.

1. They often don't live a month.
2. If they do live, they don't grow properly.
3. The bucks that he throws are what is called 'spike' bucks (single antlers with no branches).

I realize that he only provides 50% of the genetics for these fawns, but could all the does in the herd have something wrong with their 50%? Unlikely.
The only surviving fawn this year is tiny. I wonder if she'll make it through the winter.
The fawn in my header is from last summer. He did not make it despite his healthy appearance.

Weather could be said to be a factor this year. Extreme heat and drought have caused food sources for the deer to be incredibly hard to find.
The same cannot be said of last spring and summer (2010) though. We only had a couple days above 100* and we had plentiful rains. His fawns did not survive that summer either. Again, only a couple did and they are tiny this year. They look like they didn't grow at all over the winter.

The twist in this story: We have far, far too many deer for the acreage that is available for them. The fact that the fawns are dying off or not thriving is actually keeping the herd smaller.

On one hand, the big buck's genetics could be keeping the population in check.

On the other hand, many of the deer are suffering because of it.
The does carry a fawn to term---taxing her body during the winter months, only to have the fawn die.
The fawns die or are abandoned, I don't know which.

The question then becomes: Do we cull this buck to bring a healthier genetic base to the deer or leave him be so the general population stays where it is?


  1. I say cull...another critter will step up to the task. Bad genes are never fun

  2. Tough question. I'm surprised some greedy hunter hasn't taken home that trophy in spite of the "code."

  3. I say, for now, let nature run its course. As you say, you don't know for certain that daddy is to blame. There could be a whole list of environmental (weather, food/water availability, pests, disease) causing the issues you are seeing that have nothing to do with daddy-genetics, right? And when you say "do we cull" - who is the "cull-er"? Are you considering doing this yourself?
    Very interesting (and very sad) conversation, CeeCee. I can tell you pay very close attention to these deer. (I would, too)
    I was sad to read the baby in your banner photo didn't survive - such a beautiful baby.

  4. sounds like the does need to be culled not the buck. spikes are a sign of inbreading(those are his offspring). force him to find new does to expand his herd he has more branches on his head than on his family tree right now. Nice mains and good tine size, just needs some new ladies that are not his daughters and granddaughters.

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  6. I stand corrected this is about a 6-7 year old buck he will run off any young buck that is not up to his standard. You probably only saw him because he was looking for water and food. He and his would rather not be seen hence how he got to be 6-7 years old. If you are not into the trophy let him walk if you want a trophy take him another one of his will emerge as the leader. I would get a game cam and follow this heard and check it's numbers just to be sure it is balanced. but with him around more than likely will be healthy.