Alabama’s gun deer season opens Saturday, November 19, 2011. Hunters are encouraged to participate in a research project being conducted by the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) is cooperating with Gabe Karns, a graduate student at Auburn University, to encourage hunters to harvest and provide antlers and skull plates from bucks with a spike on one side (SOOS) for inclusion in the study. SOOS bucks have one normally formed antler on one side, and a spike, or a forked prong, on the other side.
Harvesting an SOOS buck will count toward the three buck limit. For a complete list of hunting regulations visit http://www.eregulations.com/alabama/.
White-tailed deer antler growth is the product of genetic, physical, and environmental variables. Because a single genetic code determines antler structure for both sides, slight deviations from perfect symmetry are the result of non-genetic factors such as nutritional deficiencies, drought, parasites, or other stressors. More severe antler abnormalities are usually attributed to injuries to the deer’s limbs or pedicles (the base from which the antlers grow) and damage to developing antlers in velvet. Damage to developing antlers in velvet may also abruptly halt growth and result in under-developed antler structure characterized by “acorn” antler tips.
Examining bucks that exhibit SOOS antler traits should shed light on a very contentious issue among deer hunters, “What constitutes a genetic cull buck?” SOOS bucks are almost always lumped into the genetically “inferior” group. Limited data gathered during the 2010-2011 hunting season provided results suggesting this interpretation to be incorrect; however, more data is needed to better understand the SOOS phenomenon.
Skulls should be cleaned with no hide or significant amount of tissue remaining. European-style skulls and skull plates with at least one inch of bone surrounding both pedicles in all directions are acceptable samples. After examination, samples will be returned, if needed, to the hunter.
Alabama hunters are allowed to harvest three bucks a year, one of which must have at least four points 1 inch or longer on one antler. Hunters must record the date each buck is harvested and have that information available when in the field. A harvested SOOS buck will count toward the hunter’s three-buck limit.
The research project relies heavily on private landowners and hunting clubs to collect SOOS samples. This is an opportunity for Alabama deer hunters to take a proactive role in deer research and management efforts. Please contact Gabe Karns at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how you can participate in the SOOS collection process.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
Photo: Antlered buck with a pronged antler abnormality.