Antler Regulation Effects on White-tailed Deer on Mississippi Public Hunting Areas

Antler restrictions, intended to protect younger, male white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from harvest and increase harvest of older bucks, are prevalent throughout the Southeast. Mississippi's statewide regulation, initiated in 1995, protects bucks with less than four antler points. We quantified the regulation's effects on age composition, harvest rate, and antler size by analyzing harvest data collected prior to (1991-1994) and after (1997-2001) the regulation was initiated on 22 public areas encompassing 240,000 ha. Relative composition of harvest shifted (P<0.001) from 59% 1.5-year males prior to the regulation to 83% 2.5- and ≥ 3.5-year males 3-8 years later, primarily due to a reduction in harvest of 1.5-year males. Harvest rate of 2.5-year males did not change and there was only a small increase (P<0.05) in harvest of ≥3.5-year males. Total harvest decreased (P< 0.01) from 3.1 to 1.8 males per 405 ha. Antler size within age classes generally declined during the post-regulation period across the range of soil resource regions. Antler restrictions should be considered a short-term solution to age-structure problems because of the potential negative biological effects. Long-term solutions should focus on teaching hunters benefits of an older male age structure. Key words: antler regulation, antler size, harvest, Mississippi, Odocoileus virginianus, white-tailed deer.

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