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August 1998

Is Protecting Spikes Unnecessary In The U.P.? Well Yes; But Not Exactly.

I was pleased to read the article in the June issue on protecting spikes in the U.P. by Richard P. Smith. The attention given to the social and biological issue of our deer population by a noted outdoor writer is encouraging. This is where the future of our deer population rests good or bad. Richard is right on when he states the U.P. deer population number is climate driven; and a mild winter like the one we just had insures a high fawn birth rate and improves their survivability. The following comments are meant primarily as additional information.

For the years of 1994, 1995 & 1996 there was a total of 7,989 1 1/2 year old bucks checked at highway deer check stations (birth run etc.) that were taken in the U.P. the information collected showed that there was an average antler point number of 3.14 for 1 1/2 year old bucks. Contrast this with an average antler point number of 4.5 in central lower Michigan and 5.5 in southern Michigan. Additionally spikes comprise at least 50% of the 1 1/2 year old bucks in the U.P. 20% in central lower Michigan and less than 10% in southern Michigan. Mr. Smith is correct when he states protecting all antlered 1 1/2 year old bucks is more beneficial, but ---- protecting 50% aint all bad and that would be the minimum percent that I would endorse as a start. Yes Mr. Smith there are studies that show you can do more harm than good by protecting only spikes, but this would more aptly apply to central and southern Michigan. There are some areas like the pan handle of Florida where 90% or more of all the 1 1/2 year old bucks are spikes. An aggressive program of harvesting spikes could eliminate an entire age class. This would not be a good thing no matter what deer management philosophy you subscribe too. The present rule of protecting 1 1/2 year old bucks with less than 3" long spikes is even more harmful. If you insist on shooting a buck it is these guys that should be taken on an anterless license and not the better antlered 1 1/2 year olds. The last statement is not an endorsement to shoot these little guys. Better to pass on all 1 1/2 year old bucks and all 6 month old button bucks. So now we protected at least 50% of the 1 1/2 year old bucks; will this effort be for naught following a severe winter as Mr. Smith states. To a large degree Mr. Smith is right. But what about those average and mild winters which will allow the passed up bucks to advance an age bracket. I say stay in the game and play the cards you are dealt. Enjoy the winning hands and learn from the losing ones.

As far as making it mandatory by law to protect 1 1/2 year olds. I know this is a sensitive issue; but isn't it time we addressed the welfare of our deer population first and not the "what's in it for me today attitude" that too many of us exhibit. It turns out you take care of the deer and they will take care of you. For instance the much talked about Dooly County experiment in Georgia with a 15" minimum outside spread rule had a 66% approval rating from both the landowners and hunters prior to the first regulated season in 1993. After the 1995 season it bumped up to 89% approval. In 1997 an informal field survey by conservation officers could not find one dissenting opinion. Obviously something's working right. Our own DMU 101 no spikes rule for the 1997 season also showed overwhelming approval. DNR biologist. Mr. Jerry Weinrich also made an informal personal survey and came up with 95% approval. In Dooly County the buck sightings increased 250% and the buck harvest was essentially unchanged after three years; just a different age class is now taken. The increase in buck sightings is due primarily to the same 1 1/ year old passed up buck being seen more than once. This is viewed by most hunters as an improvement in the hunting experience. I am not suggesting a minimum 15" outside spread for the U.P.

How does protecting 1 1/2 year old bucks benefit the welfare of our deer population even if we have those devastating winters that might knock them off anyway. You have all heard of the old dominate buck. Well he is real and he is there if he gets the chance to mature. He can and usually does take charge of the breeding ritual. Younger bucks are often times suppressed which allows them to enter winter in better shape thus helping them to better survive a tough winter. Besides the fawns the rutting 1 1/2 year old bucks are the least capable of surviving a hard winter. It is not unusual for young bucks that are not suppressed to lose 20% or more of their weight during the rut. Another few more pounds lost during a tough winter and they are history. If we lose a few older dominate bucks so be it. They did their job. There are many other benefits that occur when addressing the general welfare of our deer population. May I suggest the four seasons books by Mr. John Ozoga and the Quality Deer Management Association Book "Quality Whitetails." Thank you Mr. Smith for bringing up an important but all to often neglected subject.

This business of protecting spikes and what it entails will be addressed by Dr. Harry Jacobson; world known deer genetics specialist at the annual Mid Michigan Branch QDMA educational seminar September 12th 12:00 noon Gladwin High School Gladwin Michigan.

Finally let me address something more important than passing on young bucks. As Mr. Smith most accurately stated "hunters can do far more to insure future supplies of bucks by preventing the herd from growing too large again." By passing on bucks you are addressing the sex ratio and buck age structure. This is good. The increased competition for does increases the intensity of the rut. The smell and presence of the rutting buck excites the does. The excited does in turn excite the bucks and you get action! 90% or more of the breedable does can get bred in their first estrus in this type of atmosphere. But if you are in a stressed situation due to too many deer for the habitat passing on bucks and not taking does only makes it worse. This stressed condition reduces the pregnancy rate which means less fawns and that is the primary key to good deer management. Your first goal should be to achieve a high fawn birth rate year after year and doing the things necessary to accomplish this. It takes a book to fully cover this subject but in simple terms keep the total deer population less than the maximum carrying capacity. 62.5% will give you the greatest sustained yield and not lower the vegetive growth appreciably. 40% will give you the same number of fawns as 80%. At 100% many does just refuse to get bred. Doe fawns stop breeding in the U.P. or southern Michigan when the carrying capacity approaches 60% and above. Yes! You can actually produce more fawns by going from a high carrying capacity to a lower one. How about 62% more fawns October 1st in a 30% carrying capacity versus 90%. Have you ever noticed people stop talking when they enter a crowded elevator. Well in the deer world they stop breeding. How can you tell if your area is in a safe carrying capacity? You can check the preferred browse in early spring. If less than 50% is eaten you are okay. In late summer if 80% or more of the adult does observed are with fawns you are okay. If the twin fawns observed equal 50% or more of the doe/fawn groups you are okay.

Keep the fun in hunting

Ed Spinazzola

President Mid Michigan Branch QDMA

810 784-8090 (H)

810 739-8770 (W)


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