In our previous two articles, we discussed mature buck management practices from the genetics vs. nutrition standpoint and mature buck breeding practices. In this post, we will discuss the management practice of culling whitetail buck to improve your deer herd. Does it really work? What do I really need to do?
What is Culling?
Culling is a practice that has been around for decades and believed to have originated as part of the cattle industry. According to Merriam-Webster’s, it is “to reduce or control the size of (something, such as a herd) by removal, (as by hunting) of especially weaker animals; also : to hunt or kill (animals) as a means of population control.”.
In whitetail management, many times it is used with bucks. Managers determine which bucks have inferior traits – usually by their antler mass or structure and tag those bucks as “cull” bucks. Then the landowner or group will remove those bucks from the herd through selective harvest. The intent is to have those genes removed from the breeding population to promote better genetics within the herd structure.
Reviewing the Deer Wood Facts
What we know about the deer woods changes on a yearly basis and it is easy to see how as a management practice culling makes sense; however, let’s review the whitetails cycle.
A buck and doe mate – in part 2 of this series we see there is about a 30% chance she breeds with a mature buck. The doe births the fawns in the late spring and if everything is okay, she will likely have twins. If every piece of the puzzle has been perfect to this point, the doe birthed a healthy male and a healthy female.
During the gestation period, both her genes and the “father’s” genes determine the fawn’s characteristics. Once the buck is of breeding age, he will be pushed out of that area (nature’s way of eliminating inbreeding) and will travel to a new home.
Nearly every study completed on the whitetail has concluded a deer will spend most of its life in an area roughly 1 square mile. Yes, some parts of the US and Canada will see different results, but this is generally the rule. It has been documented that most bucks travel 2-5 miles from their birth area so there is no bloodline conflict.
What does that mean for your practice of culling?
Theory Meets Reality
Based on what we know, does the practice of culling make sense?
In my opinion, in 95% of our wildlife management circumstances, no.
- You don’t know if the inferior buck got its genes from the mother or father – it could be the doe!
- You can’t control which buck is doing the breeding – so if 66% of your does are being bred by 2 ½ years old’s or younger you may never know if you got the right buck.
- His “cull” rack could be from a bad year or two of nutrition in his area or he was injured during the antler growing season and that affected his rack.
- The perfect buck you think you will produce is not going to grow up in your deer woods (unless you own 4000 acres or more and/or are a high fence operation) – he will likely be on your two farms away neighbor’s farm.
- The buck you are seeing on your property is also from your two farms away neighbor’s farm – not yours.
I am in no way saying not to cull that buck you consider inferior if that is your desire. What I am saying is based on the facts, you are not going to improve the genetic makeup of your buck population.
Are There Any Benefits of Culling?
Yes, but let’s cull the herd and not antlers.
If you have been practicing habitat improvement, then focus on your land’s carrying capacity and cull numbers of bucks or does to keep the herd healthy. You may also draw in a “new” buck that will turn into that 160-inch wall hanger if you have an area conducive to his needs.
Those bucks born a couple miles away will need new homes and will be looking for does to breed during the rut. Focus your efforts on providing quality habitat for them and you will likely see better results than using antler size or structure as your guide.
If you are going to cull bucks, use age as your guide. Get that 4 ½ and 5 ½ running around on your property, then you will start seeing the results you are looking for.
As we continue this journey in wildlife management, it is important to question management practices and to continue to be a life-long learner in this area.
Over the past 30 years, I had formulated wildlife management practices based on my knowledge and experiences in the deer woods. In the past year, new information has caused me to modify some of my thinking. That’s ok. Its ok to question the why and if this piece makes you question your practices or challenge this writing – great!
It is all part of the learning cycle and you may discover the next practice technique we will be reading about next year. See you in the deer woods!