Building A Quality Whitetail

Posted on June 18, 2019



The title is really an oxymoron, we build houses, infrastructure, automobiles etc…but we don’t really have the ability to actually build a living, breathing deer. Although, there are those in the commercial deer farming business who would argue differently. In their drive to produce pen raised deer that score over 300-inches they have used technology and drugs to manipulate deer genetics to a prescribed blueprint. But still, that is not actually building something. It equates to nothing more than tampering with an animal that is innately both wild and free.

Man is creative; he is forever tinkering with something in an attempt to improve it. Faster engines, sleeker flat screens, front-loading washing machines, indoor plumbing, cell phones and wicked fast modems to speed-up our computers are but a few of the many inventions that have come as a result of man’s ingenuity. Because this creativity doesn’t end with mechanization and technology, the modern deer hunter has resourcefully used his husbandry savvy to manipulate habitat that will both benefit and propagate deer.

The term ‘building’ is a unilateral term not exclusive to pounding nails, turning wrenches or pouring cement; it incorporates anything that we may put the sweat of our brow and calloused hands to. Tilling the ground, planting trees and food plots, creating forest openings, and selectively cutting timber are all parts of manipulating and enhancing the environment in which the whitetail lives. And after all, it worked in the movie, Field of Dreams when Shoeless Joe Jackson exclaimed, “If you build it, they will come.”



While there is not the slightest doubt regarding our ability and initiative to build something, it is always the results of our actions that determine the success of any project. I don’t know about you, but when I go to make a purchase the most important part of my decision as to whether I buy a certain brand is in its durability and quality. I don’t want to own junk! It will only frustrate me when it breaks or fails to live up to its advertised qualities. The question at hand then becomes, what makes this product better than any of its competitors? Typically, the product that wins out and ultimately comes home with me is the one that is built the best.



With that said, when it comes to whitetails, we need to understand that quality doesn’t mean having the biggest, highest scoring antlers. This misnomer has permeated the deer hunting ranks for as long as I can remember. Bigger antlers are merely a by-product of a healthy buck residing where all his nutritional needs are met. Let me put it another way: I drive a Chevrolet Silverado half-ton pick-up truck while my neighbor, who lives in a way bigger house than I drives a Cadillac Escalade. Just because his vehicle costs more than mine does not mean it has any greater quality. It may have more value, and it certainly adds the element of prestige, but in reality, my Chevy pick-up meets the same quality standards as the Escalade simply due to governmental standards. Now that we have that cleared up, what does it take to produce quality deer?


The Ingredients

Essentially, there are two crucial ingredients necessary in producing quality whitetails: age and nutrition. Wait a minute Bernier, isn’t there actually three ingredients to this recipe? What about genetics, don’t they play a huge role, especially when it comes to bucks? Good question, I’m glad you asked. But before I answer let me first inquire how good your genetics are. Are you as tall as you should be? How about intelligence? Are you the sharpest knife in the drawer in comparison to your peers? What about natural talent? Did you get as much as your competition? Are you all you can be?

Genetics are a mixture of physical characteristics inherited from both the father and mother. The molecular basis for genes is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is composed of a chain of nucleotides, of which there are four types: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). Genetic information exists in the sequence of these nucleotides, and genes exist as stretches of sequence along the DNA chain. Once conceived, those genetics are forever in place and the only way to alter them is through some form of genetic tampering. This is where the slippery slope of selective breeding, selling straws of seamen and the like, raises its ugly head. Can you imagine someone approaching you and making the statement, you’re too short and bald (which would be accurate in my case) and then asserting that you are genetically inferior? Would you then be shot to improve the neighborhood? I sure hope not!



The genes of a fawn come from a buck and a doe and thus determine physical characteristics. Some bucks will have the DNA to grow large antlers, although I’m not sure that would be a favored attribute if the deer was asked, especially if it knew a huge bullseye was centered on his chest because of them, while other bucks will only grow nominal racks even in the best of conditions. I didn’t ask to be short anymore than a buck had any say in what would eventually grow or not grow on his head – it’s already been predetermined at conception.





Gene Wensel has become famous for the comment, “Don’t pick the fruit before it is ripe.” What that means is to let deer mature. A mature whitetail, buck or doe is 5 1/2 –years of age. Their skelton has finished growing, body mass is at peak and they have enough years under their hooves to make them ecologically wise. A 5 1/2-year old buck is a 5 1/2-year old buck regardless of whether his antlers score 120 or 170; he is mature. We cannot confuse antler score with maturity, and we will never know what a buck is capable of growing or how heavy he might get unless he has been afforded the opportunity to reach maturity. Am I advocating not shooting younger deer? Absolutely and resoundingly NO! Shoot whatever you like. But understand, I am writing about quality here and what it takes to maximize that quality in a whitetail.



We are what we eat. Make fast foods, candy and desserts your main staple and you’re probably going to have an overweight issue coupled with high blood pressure, coranary problems and possibly diabeaties. Deer, likewise, become what they forage on. If the nutrients are poor in the soil from which their food is derived than they will be deficient in both body size and antler growth. When whitetail herds overreach the carrying capacity of their habitat the competition for food also hampers growth. Exceedingly harsh winters associated with sparse, low-nutrition food results in stunted growth, especially recognizable with small antler size following that kind of winter.





A mature whitetail taken under fair chase, regardless of its size, antler score or sex is, as it should always be, a quality deer, one that any hunter can be proud to attach his or her tag to.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer