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‘Antlerless’ buck debate continues

Andy Reed • Nov 22, 2017 at 8:30 AM

We’re in the midst of the second season in which the TWRA’s definition of an “antlerless” deer is in effect, and it continues to stir debate.

Under the definition, a buck is considered antlerless if it doesn’t have antlers.

Sounds simple, right?

But it’s not, at least for some hunters.

In order be classified antlerless, a buck can’t have antlers that are VISIBLE above the hair-line. Such yearlings are known as “button” bucks. They are generally born later in the spring than normal, and by hunting season their budding antlers have not grown enough to break through the skin and visibly protrude.

That makes a button buck virtually impossible to distinguish from a doe, especially at a distance or in dim light.

Some hunters fret that button bucks will be shot by mistake and – once the hunter realizes he has killed a buck instead of a doe – the deer will be left to waste.

I don’t understand why.

If a hunter thinks he’s shooting a doe, and instead shoots a button buck, why not simply haul it out and process it, just as he would a doe? A button buck with no visible antlers doesn’t count against the hunter’s two-buck limit. There’s no need to let it go to waste.

Granted, mistakes can happen. In dim light a hunter might fail to see tiny, barely-visible antler nubs and kill a buck with quarter-inch “antlers.’’ That counts as part of the two-buck limit. If the hunter already has taken his two-buck limit, that would mean he violated the law.

There’s a simple solution: once a hunter has tagged two antlered bucks he should make sure what he’s shooting at before he pulls the trigger again. If he’s not absolutely certain that there’s no trace of an antler on the deer’s head, he shouldn’t shoot.

I suspect most of the opposition to killing button bucks is due to the growing trend toward trophy hunting. More and more hunters are antler-addled and want to protect as many small (i.e., non-trophy) bucks as possible.

If some trophy hunters had their way, they would ban taking any buck with less than 8 points or a 15-inch-wide rack span. A minimum-size antler rule is already in place on the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area.

As I’ve said before, I don’t oppose trophy hunting. A couple of my hunting buddies are trophy hunters. But it’s not for me, and I don’t want to be forced to do it against my will. I should be allowed to choose what deer I want to take, rather than have to abide by a senseless trophy regulation.

Let’s be clear: there is absolutely no game-management reason for minimum-size antler restrictions. The ONLY reason is to produce more bucks with bigger antlers.

A few decades ago there was a legitimate management reason for protecting does: the state’s meager deer population needed to be grown, and protecting breeding does was the most effective way to do it. Nowadays that’s not the case. Deer are over-populated in many areas, and there is no biological need to protect does, button bucks or deer of any size or sex.

Here’s a suggestion: if a hunter kills a button buck by mistake and doesn’t want it, he can donate it to Hunters for the Hungry to help feed the needy.

Like me, they don’t eat antlers.

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