Genetics is the least of our worries concerning the management of deer in the Bayou State.
The scientific rule known as Bergmann’s Rule states that animals with large bodies are best suited for cold environments in the north whereas animals with small bodies are better suited for the warm environments in down south. Nevertheless there were Wisconsin deer stocked in this state during the early restocking days in the fifties. Some hunters still talk about these Wisconsin Blue Bucks and some hunters think we need to bring northern deer down and improve the genetics of our deer. In fact deer farmers have been doing this both legally and illegally for several years now. Some have discovered that these northern deer that have not been exposed to our southern environment and to the bluetongue virus that is common in our herds do not fare too well.
Let me state from the beginning that we have good deer genetics in this state and the idea of restocking with northern deer or deer from other parts of the U.S. is not sound thinking. We produce trophy class deer in this state every year and all of them are descendents from our native deer. The restocking that was done years ago with northern deer is history. Most of the restocking done in this state used Louisiana deer basically from three locations; the mouth of the Mississippi River (Delta Deer), deer from Madison and Tensas Parishes, and deer from the Red Dirt Preserve in Area 2. These deer can reach quality and trophy status when habitat conditions are good to excellent. This statement is supported by the state’s parish records of trophy deer.
Breeding periods of Louisiana deer
The biggest impact of genetics in our Louisiana deer herds is the fact that the genetics of the does determines the breeding schedule for the herd.
In Area 2 deer breed primarily from mid October through November. In southwest Louisiana the breeding period of deer in these areas is a month earlier. In southeast Louisiana the peak month is December with January being the secondary month. In Areas 1 and 6, the river parishes, the rut is late with the peak month being January and the secondary month being February. This fact regarding breeding seasons of Louisiana deer is well documented and shows the effect of the state restocking program.
In my parish, East Feliciana, deer were stocked in the southeast portion of the parish in the mid-fifties and came from Red Dirt, Area 2. These deer have maintained the October/November breeding schedule. The remainder of the parish was stocked with deer primarily from the Mississippi Delta, December/January breeding deer. These herds have maintained this breeding schedule from the time they were stocked. The hunting season for the parish was set to coincide with Area 2 Seasons, however, when it was discovered that most of the deer in the parish had the later breeding schedule, a season that provided for more hunting in December and January was developed. Hunters in the southeast part of the parish do not benefit from this later season schedule and will miss out on the rut if they do not hunt in October and early November.
Likewise, there are portions of parishes in Area 2 that were stocked with deer from Madison and Tensas Parishes which breed later than the typical Area 2 deer. For example deer in Bossier Parish for the most part have the basic October/November breeding season but on and around Barksdale AFB the breeding season is December/January.
The breeding season concerning deer in the state is well documented and is available to hunters via the LDWF website. For a hunter to have success, hunting during the rut is a must. Miss the rut and you might as well stay home and watch football.
Genetics does have an impact on antler configuration, the shape of the antlers and the size of the points. Some racks have an oval appearance while some racks have a tall diamond shape appearance. It is well documented that spike antlers are not a result of genetics (for the most part), but rather a product of low quality habitat or a high density herd occupying low quality habitat. There are those adult bucks with spikes, some perhaps due to injury or habitat and on occasion can be a result of the genetic make-up of that animal. I would venture to say that most of the cowhorn spikes that hunters shoot are actually 1 ½-year-old deer and the spikes were simply their first set of antlers. It is common for this age class to be dominated with bucks that have spikes. I would also say that in the 1960s spikes were not too common in this state and a high percentage of 1 ½-year-old bucks had branched antlers. Again, research has always shown that when habitat conditions are good to excellent and the herd is in balance with the habitat, 1 ½-year-old bucks should produce branched antlers.
Trying to change the genetic make-up of a herd through removal of bucks with undesirable antlers is probably a losing proposition and is not going to do much. That does not mean that adult bucks with spike antlers should not be harvested or older bucks with only six point racks should not be shot. By all means, whenever a hunter sees an adult buck with poor antler growth the trigger should be pulled. Big adult bucks with six point racks seems to have become common in many herds. If the hunter can detect these adult bucks at age 2 or age 3, the animal should be harvested; the idea is not that you are trying to cull to improve genetics, but one is removing an animal that has below average antler growth. Get it off the habitat and let another buck have the groceries it would be eating.
Years ago I was hunting with my son Ruffin on a green patch on a friends property in our parish. Right before dark a group of does came out and began to feed. Suddenly a buck with a 16-inch inside spread came out with very short tines. We estimated the age to be 3 ½ and Ruffin passed on it and shot a 7 ½-year-old doe. The next year I was in a climbing stand in a pretty patch of hardwoods listening to a buck thrashing its antlers in the branches of a tree. A few grunts on my call had the buck standing almost under me. It was the same buck but this time it had an 18-inch inside spread and the tines were still short. The jawbone that I removed from this muzzleloader harvested buck indicated a 4 ½-year-old buck. No doubt genetics were the reason for this antler growth that was producing a decent beam but short tines. Nevertheless it was still an exciting hunt that will not be forgotten. Next month we will look at the age factor and its importance to a deer program.