Experimental Mule Deer Antler Restriction
Over the past 5 years, TPWD has received many requests from landowners, managers, and hunters to improve the buck age structure within the southeast Panhandle. TPWD data for the past 14 years indicate annual, intensive mule deer buck harvest has created a skewed sex ratio and an age structure inordinately weighted towards young deer in the buck segment of the population. Certain types of antler restrictions can be used to successfully reduce the impact of intensive harvest on buck age structure and sex ratios within a population. Therefore, TPWD is experimenting with an antler restriction that prohibits the harvest of any mule deer buck with a main beam outside spread that is less than 20 inches. The experimental regulation is designed to reduce excessive hunting pressure on young bucks and shift the age structure of the buck herd toward older age class bucks. By doing so the regulation should help to improve overall hunter satisfaction. Other possible benefits of managing for a balanced buck age structure may include improved sex ratios and shortened breeding periods, which could help to improve fawn recruitment and reduce overall stress on bucks.
The experimental antler restriction will be conducted for 4 hunting seasons in Briscoe, Childress, Cottle, Floyd, Hall, Lynn and Motley counties. Data will be assessed throughout the experiment, but at the end of 4 hunting seasons, TPWD will propose either to extend the experiment, modify the antler restriction, or permanently terminate the experiment.
TPWD will use voluntary harvest check stations to collect age and antler measurements. To gather the most harvest data possible, TPWD is offering incentives to hunters who check their harvest. Hunters who bring their mule deer buck to a check station will be entered in drawings for items such as lifetime hunting licenses, rifles and other great prizes. Harvest data is essential to effectively evaluate the success of the experimental antler restriction. For more information on reporting Mule Deer harvests and hunter incentives, see the Mule Deer Harvest Check Stations for more information..
Special Antler Restriction
Data collected from mule deer and white-tailed deer indicate that the average antler spread increases as bucks mature. In addition, the current white-tailed deer antler restriction that exists within 117 counties has proven to be highly successful in creating a more balanced age structure and shifting harvest to older aged bucks. Unlike the white-tailed deer antler restriction, which has an inside spread measurement criterion, the experimental mule deer antler restriction will use an outside spread measurement based on many years of TPWD mule deer harvest data. The logic behind using the outside spread criteria (20”) is that this measurement in mature bucks is very close to the distance between ear tips when a buck is standing in the alert position and is the easiest guide to allow accurate field judging by hunters. In contrast, the average inside spread is several inches less than the distance between ear tips, which would make it more difficult to judge in the field. More importantly, data collected by TPWD shows that using the main beam outside spread should achieve the goal of protecting younger mule deer bucks.
To protect young bucks, TPWD has set the minimum legal outside spread of the main beams at 20 inches based upon many years of harvest data. In other words, any buck having main beams with an outside spread smaller than 20 inches is NOT legal to harvest. Additionally, any buck with at least one unbranched antler (e.g., spike) is NOT legal to harvest, unless the outside spread of the main beams is 20 inches or more in width. The ear-tip to ear-tip measurement can be a useful guide to mule deer hunters attempting to field-judge mule deer bucks with at least a 20-inch main beam outside spread.