Bryan Kinkel has worked with Dr. Grant Woods for quite a long time, until recently, and he has just started his own consulting firm. His new endeavor allows him more time with his family and will give him more opportunities to develop closer ties to his region of Tennessee. I would also like to add that he is a huge QDM advocate and has already agreed to be our feature speaker at our banquet in September. Tickets will be available later this year. Don't miss out on seeing him give his presentation on deer management and how to turn numbers into real habitat solutions. Here is a recent post of his on tndeer.com...his virtual home website. The most important concept to understand is the difference between an individual bucks genetic potential and his actual antler expression--in essence, how much antler material he actually grows. First, no buck in the wild ever expresses all of his genetic potential. Dealing with the stresses of life in the wild draws away too much of his bodily resources to allow those resources to go fully towards antler production. Exactly how much of his potential he expresses is largely determined by the local conditions--food resource volume and quality throughout the year especially during winter, how severe the winters are, the herd dynamics of the area, etc. Second, most bucks do not express their maximum antler size until around 6 1/2. Again, the difference between maximum expression at 6 1/2 and genetic potential is determined by local conditions. In the Midwest, the difference between the two will be much less than in TN, as the Midwest has such superior food resources in both volume and quality (nearly unlimited quantities of agriculture grown on the most fertile soils in North America). Exactly how much the difference actually is is unknown. That experiment hasn't been done yet. But if someone forced me to guess, I would have to say that in TN, the average fully mature buck at peak antler development, in the wild, probably grosses around 130, while if those animals had been raised in captivity with all stresses of life removed and fed unlimited volumes of high-quality food they might produce on average 50 more inches of antler growth. But back to the discussion at hand, first, no buck in the wild ever expresses all of his genetic potential. Second, a buck has to reach full maturity to express his maximum antler development. Young bucks express very little of their genetic potential because so much of the resources they consume are used for body growth instead of antler development. However, when all young bucks are being born at about the same time, hence have equal growing time in their early years, antler expression as a yearling may be an indicator of their genetic potential. In essence, large-antler yearlings tend to be larger antlered mature deer and small antlered yearlings tend to be smaller antlered mature deer, but only when they all have equal growing time and equal access to food resources as fawns and yearlings. However, these differences in expressed antler development and their link to future expression show up strongest only in controlled experiments, where each young buck is given equal food resources. In the wild, this rarely occurs because bucks have different quality mothers. Some mothers are more dominant than others, hence have access to more/better food resources and will produce more milk for their fawns leading to healthier button bucks and yearling bucks. So far, the only "in the wild" study that are showing this link between yearling antler development and later development are in areas with phenomenally tuned-up deer herds, such as the King Ranch, where 50+% of the buck population is 5 1/2 or older. Considering nowhere in TN has a buck age structure that good, I question whether anywhere in TN would see the same link except in the most extreme cases of genetic potential (very high or very low). Commonly in the Southeast, where buck age structures are below optimal and sex ratios favor females, the rut is not as tightly timed as it could be, resulting in fawning dates that are not as tightly timed as they could be. When fawning times are not tightly timed, the later-born bucks are generally "behind the curve" in both body growth and antler development. These late born bucks generally do not catch up in antler development until at least 3 1/2 and often 4 1/2. And they generally never catch up in body growth. Lost body growth opportunities as a young buck are apparently lost forever. Now that we have all that established, what about high-grading? If hunters are using an Antler Point Restrictions, say 4-points-on-a-side, they might end up killing any yearling bucks that produce 7+ point antlers as yearlings. In the Southeast, in the wild, most 7+ point yearlings were born earliest and had good mothers (usually dominant mothers). However, the smaller yearling bucks--many of which were late-born and/or had poorer mothers (less dominant)--are protected from harvest due to their lower antler development as yearlings. Yet their lower antler development as yearlings probably has nothing to do with their genetic potential. They may have excellent genetic potential, but their late birth and/or poorer food intake as young bucks kept them from expressing much of that potential as a young buck. In this Antler Point Restriction, the smaller antlered yearlings survive to advance in age at a much higher rate than the large antlered yearlings (many of the large antlered yearlings are harvested). The larger antlered yearlings that are killed off as yearlings may not have had any more genetic potential than the protected smaller-antlered yearlings, they just were born earlier and/or had better, more dominant mothers. So removing these bucks may have no effect what-so-ever on the antler production of bucks that live to maturity in the area (only those that had smaller antlers as yearlings). In essence, there has been no "genetic" high-grading, hence no long-term reduction in antler growth at maturity. However, those large-antlered, early born yearlings often do produce the largest racks at 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 (the effects of early-birth versus late-birth in antler development lasts at least through 3 1/2). So removing the largest-antlered yearling bucks certainly does remove the bucks that will be your largest antlered 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year-old bucks. But by 4 1/2, those differences should disappear. So if high-grading the largest antlered young bucks causes no permanent "genetic" problems, and the only result is a temporary reduction in antler development at 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year-old bucks, what's the problem? The problem is not biological but simply a problem from hunters' perspectives. Most hunters implement QDM practices because they are tired of only killing spike, fork-horn and basket 6-point yearlings, scoring at best 40-60 gross. Through QDM, they aren't attempting to produce "monster" or "trophy" bucks, they simply want to kill bucks with antlers bigger than 40-60 gross. In most QDM programs, hunters are thrilled to kill 2 1/2 year-olds averaging in the 90s gross and 3 1/2 year-olds averaging in the 110s gross. But if the best yearlings are being removed each year, the average 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year-old buck antler development may fall to 75-85 gross and 95-105 gross, respectively. From a hunter's perspective, that's a big difference, and tends to reduce their enjoyment and satisfaction with their management strategy. But in theory, this is just a small problem in management "results" which really does little long-term genetic harm to the deer population. However, there could be unforeseen biological problems. As I mentioned, small-antlered young bucks in the Southeast are often late-born and/or the sons of lower dominance mothers ("poorer" mothers). The largest antlered yearling bucks are generally earlier born and/or the offspring of more dominant, "better" mothers. If an Antler Point Restriction is removing these larger-antlered yearlings at a much higher rate, while protecting the smaller-antlered young bucks, what "genetic material" is being selectively removed from the population? If those larger-antlered yearling bucks are the offspring of more dominant mothers--and dominance should be tightly linked to specific genetic traits--those genetic traits for dominance may be being completely removed from the herd. Natural Selection is a very misunderstood process. It is often termed "survival of the fittest." However, that isn't exactly accurate. It should be described as: "He/She who produces the most surviving offspring wins." Natural Selection--when it is functioning properly--is actual a system by which "good" genetics are passed on through reproduction to the later generations of a species at a higher rate than "poor" genetics. It does this by allowing the individual animals with the "best" genetics to 1) survive through reproductive age; and 2) produce the most surviving offspring. The process by which these occur is the dominance process. "Good" genetic traits will be linked to genetic traits for dominance. If an Antler Point Restriction is removing bucks who had mothers that were more dominant, then that Antler Point Restriction is removing exactly the bucks that Nature wants to favor through Natural Selection. This means that the Antler Point Restriction is working against Nature and it's Natural Selection process. Although exactly what genetic traits are linked to dominance isn't completely known, without question they include aggressive personality, large body-size, and genetic resistance to disease. Dominant deer of both sexes tend to be naturally aggressive animals, always looking for a fight. Dominant animal also are usually some of the largest bodied animals of their age-class. And to survive to adulthood and grow a large body, a deer must be fairly resistant to disease (otherwise they would spend more body resources fighting illnesses instead of growing a larger body). And for Natural Selection to select for the most dominant animals in reproduction, first individual animals must be allowed to express more of their genetic potential, especially in body size. In essence, those animals with the genetic potential for large body size must be allowed to express that body growth potential for them to become dominant and be allowed to produce more surviving offspring. But now let's look back at one of the results of late-birth and/or a poorer, less-dominant mother. Those late-born bucks with poorer, less-dominant mothers are often under-sized body-wise for their age (their mother, being less-dominant, did not have access to the best food sources during the winter they were carrying their male offspring as a fetus, hence birth-weight will be lower; the buck was born late and had less growing time as a young buck; and his mother, being less-dominant, did not have access to the best food resources his first summer as a fawn, hence she did not produce as much milk for him). And most importantly, late-born bucks are generally under-sized body-wise--stunted--for life. They never catch up in body growth. So under the Antler Point Restriction, you have primarily late-born and permanently stunted bucks advancing to maturity. These bucks will never have the ability to express their genetic potential for body size due to their early stunting. Yet for Natural Selection to work properly, Nature needs deer to expressing their body size potential so that Natural Selection can favor that trait (since it is linked to dominance). The very critical process of Natural Selection has just been circumvented. In addition, the Antler Point Restriction has allowed the harvest of the largest antlered young bucks, who probably are the product of dominant females, hence removing whatever "good" genetic traits those dominant mothers passed on to their male offspring. So now you have a system that selectively removes exactly what Natural Selection is trying to select for. The very root core of Nature is the Natural Selection process. It is THE most critical aspect of how Nature makes a species successful over the long-term. Any time a management process is nearly guaranteed to work directly against the root core process of Nature, bad things are bound to happen in the future. Now no management system can perfectly mimic Nature's processes in every aspect. But making every effort not to circumvent critical Natural processes is always a very, very good idea. Anytime we humans circumvent the Natural Selection process in a species, we are courting disaster for that species in the long-term. You don't see many deer managers explain such things as well as he does...I hope you enjoyed the read!