View Full Version : Hunting, trophy hunting and Natural selection

December 11, 2001, 06:15 AM
Here's a question, a serious one, that I must first add a disclaimer.

I am an avid game bird and pig hunter. I am not an anti-hunter.

Now my question:

Does anyone know what effect (if any) trophy hunting has on a herds overall genetic long term health. When we trophy hunt, we tend to go for the biggest, strongest, healthiest looking buck. Natural selection tends to eliminate the sickest and weakest.

Does, therefore, trophy hunting adversely affect overall deer population?

This is a genuine question. I konw, for instance, that the best elephant trophies are usually the very old males, who no longer mate, and are therefore out of the genetic loop.

But I don't know about other species.



December 11, 2001, 07:11 AM
The really big bucks are old and have already contributed to the gene pool. I also think that as mere humans, even if we wanted to, we would be hard pressed to adversely affect the quality of the herd just by sport hunting. The big bucks are better at avoiding hunters than we are at finding the bucks.

December 11, 2001, 07:19 AM
I believe the answer is best summed up in the Virginia Game and Inland Fishery's website (http://www.dgif.state.va.us/hunting/forecast_deer.html) :

One positive point in Virginia current deer management status is that the chances of killing a mature buck in Virginia have probably never been better. This is in part due to declining hunter numbers but, more importantly, is a gradual change in deer hunter attitudes toward quality deer management harvest strategies that protect young antlered bucks. It is not uncommon at all any more to meet a substantial number of deer hunters, in some areas a majority, that are voluntarily passing up anywhere from a couple to dozens of young immature antlered bucks each and every season. This change in hunter attitude appears to be resulting in an older buck age structure across much of Virginia and older bucks means bigger bucks. This change is predicted to continue and accelerate in the future.

And I believe that statement applies to most states, IMHO.

December 11, 2001, 12:23 PM
I think Yankytrash is right on the money. Many states in the south have started doe seasons which take a lot of the meat hunting pressure off of young bucks. It is more effective to harvest a three or four year old cow than a yearling buck as there is more meat.

Even so there are too many deer. One morning on I-20 west of San Antonio I counted over 40 deer at the roadside in early AM hours, several with nice sized racks.

Art Eatman
December 11, 2001, 01:09 PM
I-20 goes from Dallas through Odessa...:)

Yeah, Bowser, I think the cite by yankytrash is representative of what's happening. There easily can be local areas where this isn't the case, of course. Some guys just see horns and shoot, whether immature bucks or whatever.

The biggest problem in much of the Texas whitetail country--particularly around the Hill Country--is not shooting enough does to maintain a proper buck/doe ratio. You eventually wind up with a large population of small deer, given the geometrical growth rate. The herd becomes too large for the carrying capacity of the land.

Contributory is the anti-hunting attitude in areas where "five acres, five miles from town" is the pattern of residential development. You then wind up with an "infestation" of "rats with hooves".

:), Art

Jack Straw
December 13, 2001, 10:30 AM
Hunters really can't impact the genetics of a deer herd (in the vast majority of cases) regardless of whether they are meat hunting, trophy hunting or practicing quality deer management (distinctly different from "trophy hunting"). A deer gets it's genetic make-up from 2 sources: it's mother and father. There would have to be an major impact on genetically superior does in a population to change the genetics of a whole herd and I defy anyone in the field to point out a genetically superior doe. There are just too many variables that go into creating a set of antlers that will be defined by a hunter as "trophy class". Age, nutrition and genetics are just the 3 basic ingredients that determine the size of a buck's antlers. Of those 3, genetics are the least important. Without age (the most important) and good nutrition, a buck won't meet his genetic potential...ie...all the genetics in the world won't put "trophy" antlers on a 1.5 year old buck with poor nutrition.

This sort of thing is one of my favorite topics and I could go on for hours about it...unfortunately I'm at work so I'd better get with it.:)

The Quality Deer Management Association would be a good place to find more detailed info. Go to www.qdma.com and see what articles are available. Check out the books on deer management that are available there also.


Art Eatman
December 13, 2001, 02:42 PM
Jack, the style of hunting can affect the buck/doe ratio. The amount of hunting can affect body size, if the herd is too numerous for the carrying capacity of the range.

Back in the late 1960s, I moved back to the old family ranch. There were way too many deer on the place. Average field-dressed weight for does was around 75-85 pounds; for bucks, around 100 pounds.

I spent three years shooting does, mature spike bucks and "scraggle horn" bucks. I hunted year-round, mostly killing does. I got sick and tired and thoroughly fed up with gutting and butchering deer. Gutting a deer in August ain't my idea of fun. But, had a lot of barbecue-parties and ate a bunch of good venison.

By the fourth year, body weights were up generally around 30%, average; and the bucks had pretty good-looking racks.

My killing was totally illegal, of course. However, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department did a similar experiment at their land near Kerrville some years later, and found the same result. Since they were a state agency, they could brag about what they did, what they learned.

Any rancher who understands "carrying capacity" coulda told them...

:), Art

December 13, 2001, 05:47 PM
I-20 goes from Dallas through Odessa

I-10, I-20, I-40 what's the difference? Who reads maps? ;)

OK so it was I-10 and more specifically between Kerrville and Junction and they gradually petered out by the time the sun rose and I got to Sonora. Anyway it was dark and there were a whole lot of deer! "Rats with hooves" is a not really good description because I saw several really big racks.

Also saw a whole lot of antelope north of Carlsbad that trip.

Come to think of it I-20 was the dusty road back East from Odessa. No deer, but a lot of Texas State Troopers.

December 13, 2001, 06:31 PM
Whitetail are at pest level ("infestation" of "rats with hooves".) in many places where a hundred years ago there were none.

In many states, and areas within states, whitetail have crowded out old native species.

One instance where species introduction has backfired. But in most areas the Bambi huggers won't let em be thinnedj out properly.


Jack Straw
December 14, 2001, 10:51 AM

You sir are exactly right...I wish you would come to my hunting club and give your testimonial to some of our members.:D You have seen how quality deer management can work and how it can positively impact a deer herd. I know the QDM philosophy isn't for everyone, but I wish some of our club members would accept the fact that the deer they pull the trigger on this year affects the herd for future years; we are not only hunters, we are the managers of our game animals. We can manage the age structure, the social structure and the nutritional level of the deer we hunt and for me that has over-ridden my desire to just kill a deer, any deer, so I have become very selective about what I shoot.

As for the original question at hand -- of all the things that hunters can manage, herd genetics is really not something within our reach. Through being a member of QDMA, I have had numerous chances to talk to and hear lectures from some of the top deer biologists in the country (world for that matter) and they are of the opinion that for most hunters genetics is not something that we should concern ourselves with. They have pointed out that there are some intensively managed areas in Texas where certain bucks will be taken in an attempt to cull certain traits that would seem to be genetically related (removing bucks that don't have brow tines, for example). Even so, such a genetic trait may have come from that buck's mother and she could still be alive and passing that gene on. Add to that the fact that deer (bucks more than does) will sometimes wander away from their original living range which will change the genetics of a given area. Something else to consider is that a "trophy" buck (in this case defined as one with large antlers) may not necessarily be a genetically superior buck; perhaps he just outlived other bucks with better genes. As I stated in my previous post, age is the factor that allows nutrition and genetics to reach their potential.

See how easy it is to get me off and running on this topic...


Art Eatman
December 14, 2001, 12:16 PM
Yeah, Jack, I know what you mean about loving the topic.

Some of the ranches in (mostly) southern Texas have gone into deer management in a big way. (Because of the overhead, it costs big bucks to go shoot big bucks.) Deer-proof fences around pastures of well over 1,000 acres aren't cheap, among other things.

They cull for apparent genetic deficiencies, and do a world of improvement to pastures as to herbs and forbs as well as water supply. Mineral supplements, as well. The overall numbers commonly are held just below the carrying capacity of the land.

The result is bucks such as "Heart Attack", whose antlers are so big his head looks unnaturally small. From the pictures, I'd say he's a 28" spread, long-tined 16-pointer. He'd probably field-dress around 200 pounds. (He's not to be shot; strictly a herd stud. I'd like a job like that.)