Antler Breakage Patterns in White-tailed Deer

Antlers contribute greatly to the life history and ecology of most species in the deer family (Cervidae). Diet composition and quality, precipitation, age, antler size, dominance rank, and demographic parameters (e.g., adult sex ratio, density) of the population may explain variation in antler breakage rates between individuals and subpopulations. Our objectives were to examine the effects of some of these variables on probability of antler breakage and provide a general description of antler breakage patterns in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). From 2001-2010, we collected 487 shed antlers from captive white-tailed deer managed at relatively high densities with a sex ratio skewed towards males. Overall antler breakage rate was 30% with approximately 51% of antlered males possessing ≥1 broken antler (at least one antler point or the main beam broken). Beam circumference (β = -0.016) and total number of antler points (β = 0.169) had the greatest effect on probability of antler breakage. The main beam and G2 antler point were least susceptible to breakage. No effect of seasonal precipitation was documented, but supplemental feed was available ad libitum possibly alleviating nutritional stress due to drought and reducing the effect of precipitation levels on antler breakage. The study provides a general description of antler breakage in a white-tailed deer herd and reaffirms that antler breakage is likely a byproduct of many interwoven individual antler, herd demographic, and environmental variables. From statewide agencies to individual properties, managers should consider how antler breakage patterns may affect harvest regulations based on antler characteristics and how management schemes designed to maximize trophy antler potential may be impacted.

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