Some hunters love them, others hate them, but you can rest assured all have an opinion of them – we’re talking about mandatory antler restrictions.
Antler restrictions do not equal “Quality Deer Management.” Rather, antler restrictions are a strategy to protect a specific age class (generally 1½-year-old bucks) or classes of bucks, and protecting young bucks is only one of several important features of Quality Deer Management. Many antler restrictions have been employed including point, spread, and beam-length requirements as well as Boone & Crockett score. All restrictions have advantages and disadvantages.
In general, QDMA prefers the voluntary passing of yearling bucks to mandatory antler regulations. However, we recognize that antler restrictions may be justified in some situations to achieve specific deer management objectives. Regarding our position on specific antler restriction proposals, QDMA examines each on a case-by-case basis and applies a three-part test.
First, is the restriction biologically sound? This means the proposed restriction will protect the majority of yearling bucks while allowing the majority of bucks 2½ years old and older to be eligible for harvest. This is always the goal of state-mandated restrictions, though voluntary antler restrictions on private lands may seek to protect some older age classes as well. In either case, the antler restriction criteria must be based on data collected from the affected deer population to ensure the right bucks are protected.
Second, is it supported by the majority of affected hunters and landowners? Agencies considering an antler restriction should conduct surveys to determine support levels before enacting the restriction.
Finally, will it be objectively monitored to determine success or failure? Without monitoring, there is no way to know if the restriction should be altered to improve success or possibly removed altogether if it doesn’t work or is no longer needed.
Many restrictions fail one or more of these criteria. The QDMA has supported some antler restrictions, opposed others, and taken a neutral stance on still others. In the long term, QDMA is optimistic that enough hunters will voluntarily pass young bucks that antler restrictions will become unnecessary and even cumbersome to more sophisticated management.
Antler Restrictions Around North America
How common are mandatory antler restrictions? To find out, we surveyed all state and provincial wildlife agencies that manage white-tailed deer in 2011 and learned that 22 states and zero Canadian provinces implemented antler restrictions. Click on the image in the Gallery below to see the full-size map of the states. To see more details about the types of restrictions in each state, see page 13 of the 2012 Whitetail Report. The restrictions were statewide for at least one buck in the bag limit for eight of these states, and the type varied among number of antler points, antler spread, length of main beam, or a combination of these. Point restrictions were the most commonly used technique (15 of 22 states), followed by combination restrictions using antler spread and main beam length or antler spread and antler points (four states), and antler spread restrictions (three states).
Overall, these findings were very similar to what states used in 2008, when we previously surveyed agencies on this topic. New Hampshire was the only state with antler restrictions in 2008 that did not use them in 2011. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department employed an antler point restriction in one of 18 wildlife management units from 2007 to 2009 and discontinued its use in 2010. Michigan was the only state to discontinue statewide restrictions from 2008 to 2011. Michigan still employs antler point restrictions, they are just not used statewide. California is the only new state to list antler point restrictions in 2011.
Regarding type, the number of states using point, spread and combination restrictions in 2011 were identical to 2008.
Regionally, antler restrictions were most common in the Southeast (eight of 11 states), followed by the Northeast (seven of 13 states), Midwest (five of 13 states), and Canada (zero of eight provinces). It’s important to note that most Western states did not provide the requested information so they were omitted from this analysis. Antler restrictions have a longer history in the Southeast than other regions. This partly explains their increased use in this region and the type of restrictions employed. Combination restrictions are more intensive and provide managers more flexibility to meet management objectives but are a little more challenging for hunters first exposed to them. All four states using combination restrictions were in the Southeast.
Regardless of strategy used to protect yearling bucks, QDMA recommends that state and provincial wildlife agencies conduct extensive education and outreach programs to inform hunters about the benefits of protecting yearling bucks and to garner their support for sound deer management programs. The key to implementing an effective strategy is to devise it from local data and then educate local sportsmen and women on the benefits.