Evaluation of Antler-based Selective Harvest Criteria on Harvest and Antler Size of Male White-tailed Deer in Florida

Antler-based selective-harvest criteria (SHC) for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) management is common on public lands throughout the Southeast despite little published literature examining their effects on harvest composition, antlered harvest per unit effort (HPE), and antler scores. Particularly, SHCs may select against larger-antlered males within each age cohort, resulting in smaller antler size of the residual population. We examined the effects of SHC on harvest composition, number of antlered deer harvested per 100 days hunter effort, and antler-scores within age cohorts on 23 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Florida. These WMAs, which had harvest regulations which required a legal antlered deer to have at least one antler ≥5 inches in length or at least one antler with two or more points, all implemented a more restrictive SHC requiring legal males to have at least one antler with three or more points between 2004 and 2008. We used generalized linear mixed models to assess effects of geographic region, age class, and pre-SHC type (5-inch or 2-point), and the interactions of these variables on age-class harvest composition, HPE, and gross Boone and Crockett (GBC) scores after implementation of the 3-point SHC. The 3-point SHC decreased the proportion of 1.5 year olds in harvest (P < 0.001) regardless of the pre-type SHC. Only on WMAs with a previous 5-inch SHC did antler size of the harvest increase (P < 0.01), but this effect was not different across age cohorts (P > 0.10). Also, only on WMAs with a 5-inch SHC did HPE decrease. Antler-based SHCs may increase average antler scores of males in harvest; however, they may cause longer than expected declines in antlered harvest.

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