News Columns & Blogs

Winter stress, early shedding of antlers

Deer hunters afield through the seasons designed for shooting antlerless whitetails may want to spend a little extra time studying a deer before they squeeze the trigger.

What you think is a super-sized doe could be a buck that’s already dropped both antlers. I saw such an animal Sunday evening.

Such deer are legal to shoot during the assorted antlerless-only seasons that run through Jan. 31 in some parts of Kansas. But it does nothing to help manage the herd and could cheat someone out of the trophy of a lifetime during a future season.

Conditions are right for more to be around.

Stress, like periods of extreme cold and snow, seem to cause some bucks to shed their antlers a bit earlier than during more average conditions. Such seemed to be the case in the winter of 2000-2001 when we had about six weeks of cold with ice and snow.

Unofficially it was a January of the most drop-antlered bucks I’d ever seen, though most bucks I saw while hunting were still packing horns.

Kevin Blecha, a research biologist studying deer at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge for K-State and Wildlife and Parks, said he’s seen the same. This year he saw his first drop-antlered bucks in mid-December.

So what’s a person to look for?

Well, if the deer’s close enough and feeding check the top of the head for the circles that’ll show where antlers have just been.

Body-size is another decent indication. Bucks past about 1 1/2-years old are built with bigger size, thicker necks and stouter shoulders than most does.

Shooting the largest of several antlerless deer may get you a button buck. By now fawns are often traveling together and button bucks are generally larger than doe fawns. They’re legal, for sure, but do nothing to help with herd management.

I guess if you really want to do your part, shoot the smallest deer which would probably be a doe fawn. Shooting a doe at such an early age would save the state up to 10 or more years of reproduction.

It would also provide you with some danged tasty venison.