Mandatory antler restrictions are among the hot-button deer hunting topics that always bring out strong opinions on both sides of the discussion. They have their pros and cons and as the research has shown, place and time. They’re not a one-size-fits-all prescription, but under the right circumstances can provide benefit to both hunter and hunted, even when applied voluntarily.

One benefit is antler size. Opponents might argue that you can’t eat antlers, and they would be perfectly content with a yearling spike or four-point buck. If that four-point was standing next to an eight-point, guess which one they would shoot? According to statistics compiled by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW), average antler points for a yearling are 3.7 and for a 2-year-old, 6.3. In my experience, the latter is low. By their third fall, a buck’s rack has added a lot of mass and length and starts resembling the rack they’ll carry for the remainder of their life.

Some say they just want meat and a legal buck is a legal buck (and again, you can’t eat antlers). True, but while a yearling buck averages around 120 pounds dressed weight, a 2-year-old averages 145 and a 3-year-old 170. Who wouldn’t want an additional 50 pounds of protein if that is, in fact, what you seek?

Antler restrictions, or simply protecting yearling bucks by any means also leads to a more natural, balanced herd in terms of age structure. In heavily hunted areas and states, the antlered buck harvest is often highly skewed toward yearlings. Those deer never get older and the population, too, contains more younger deer. Those young bucks are less experienced and they and the does expend more energy during the rut. There is also evidence this leads to a more protracted and less intense rut.

The former may be important to hunters but the latter is important to deer. Natural selection has fine-tuned timing of the rut so that fawns are born at the optimum time the following spring. If they’re born too early, there may not be enough food yet; too late and they may not be big enough to withstand winter.

Preferred hunting method may also influence which side of the argument one stands on. A stationary hunter, on the ground or in the stand, has more time to look over a quarry and evaluate whether it might meet mandatory or personally imposed restrictions. The still-hunter may only get a brief, fleeting opportunity to catch a flash of antler and identify a legal buck.

Maine currently allows licensed hunters to take a buck with 3 inches or more of antler. Bottom line: it’s your tag and your choice. Success of any size deer is the goal of many hunters and they should be proud of their accomplishment. As they grow older and more experienced, however, many choose to apply greater personal restrictions. The rewards are fewer, but greater when they occur.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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