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Benefits of Protecting Yearling Bucks

Hunting Regulations Icon Rhode Island Hunting

By Kip Adams, Director of Conservation, Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA)

For decades in the late 1900s most states managed deer herds in such a manner that the majority of bucks harvested were 1.5 years old, and very few bucks ever reached maturity. Due to more recent research on the benefits of protecting yearling bucks to allow for a balanced age structure for the buck segment of the population and to increase hunter satisfaction, many state wildlife agencies today afford significant protection to yearling bucks. In 2017, the national percentage of the antlered buck harvest that was 1.5 years old was only 35 percent, which remains near the lowest national percentage ever reported. The fact that only about one in three antlered bucks shot today is 1.5 years old is amazing, and the line graph shows how the yearling percentage of the antlered buck harvest in the U.S. has changed during the past 29 years.

Is it important to save every yearling buck? Absolutely not. The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) recommends protecting the majority of yearling bucks annually, but it’s fine and even encouraged to harvest some. This is especially true for new hunters.
Protecting the majority of yearling bucks annually produces many benefits to the deer herd and to hunters. Whitetails are social animals and scent is their primary communication method. During the breeding season signposts such as rubs and scrapes provide the location for scent marking and information sharing, and areas with mature bucks can have 10 times as many rubs as areas containing only young bucks. While mature bucks aren’t necessary to ensure reproduction occurs in deer populations, there are many benefits to their presence in a population. A growing body of research suggests pheromones (chemicals secreted from an animal’s body that affects other animals) are deposited at these signposts by mature bucks, and these pheromones may have a bio-stimulating or trigger effect on the breeding season. Research also suggests that older bucks produce “controlling” or “priming” pheromones that yearling bucks are not physically mature enough to produce.
Research shows young bucks engage in breeding and may sire nearly a third of fawns even in populations where mature bucks are present. Of course, young bucks sire a higher percentage of fawns in populations with fewer mature bucks. However, this is unfortunate because it is advantageous for yearling bucks to spend less time chasing and/or breeding does and additional time feeding and storing fat for the upcoming winter. Yearling bucks that enter winter in better physical condition have higher winter survival rates and are able to contribute more spring forage to body growth and less to recovering the additional body weight lost during winter. Young bucks can handle the breeding requirements of a herd but they do so at their own nutritional expense. Therefore, the presence of mature bucks suppresses the breeding activities of young bucks. This is good for the future health and growth of these young bucks and the health of the entire deer population.
Finally, mature bucks can increase the enjoyment level of a hunt by leaving more sign (rubs and scrapes) for hunters to find and responding at a higher rate to calling and rattling. This allows hunters to take a more active role in the hunt and calling or rattling in a buck can be extremely gratifying.
In 2018 at least 24 states implemented antler restrictions and others implemented extensive educational campaigns designed to protect the majority of yearling bucks. These programs have been very successful at balancing the buck segment’s age structure. These programs have also been supported by the majority of sportsmen and women, thus providing a “win-win” situation for the hunters and state wildlife agencies.