By Mark Huelsing
I have permission to hunt two properties, which though very near to each other, are very different because they straddle an important line. This physical line, represented by a highway, indicates a boundary that puts one property under an Antler Point Restriction (APR), while the other property is not.
This line has not only divided hunting regulations, it has divided hunters.
I used to think that the primary purpose of Antler Point Restrictions was simply to ensure that there is a higher number of mature bucks in the deer population. After all, as the name implies, Antler Point Restrictions are about “antlers”, right?
Individuals may manage their personal property for big bucks, but for state wildlife and conservation agencies the purpose behind implementing Antler Point Restrictions isn’t the size of the bone, but the size and health of the whole deer population.
Here in Missouri the deer population hit record numbers nearly ten years ago. It was determined that this high population exceeded a desirable level and needed to be corrected for the health of the herd, the welfare of farmers and landowners, and for the prevention of additional problems, such as increased deer and vehicle collisions.
Missouri applied Antler Point Restrictions in select counties where the deer population was deemed to be too high. The APRs, combined with a liberal doe harvest policy, proved to dramatically increase the doe harvest and over the last several years the doe harvest has continually exceed the antlered buck harvest for the first time in decades.
The increased doe harvest and protection of younger bucks has been effective at stabilizing, or in some cases, bringing down the deer population, but more importantly it has made great gains in bringing balance to the gender ratio and age structure of the population.
Take a look at the age structure of harvested bucks in five Missouri territories under APR, compared to the harvest data from non-APR areas in the state.
In every territory under APR, the harvest of 1.5 year old bucks is quite a bit under 20%, whereas the harvest of 1.5 year old bucks in non-APR areas is over 40%. Now, even if you, like myself, aren’t necessarily a trophy hunter, you have to agree that a balanced age structure and stabilized deer population is just good conservation.
Still, I can understand why Antler Point Restrictions frustrate, and even anger some hunters. Contrary to the overwhelming themes of the whitetail hunting “industry”, many hunters still hunt for the love of the chase, and the filling of the freezer, and not just the size of a buck’s headgear. I would certainly be upset if I didn’t fill my freezer because I only had opportunities at bucks that are unlawful to harvest because of APR. For this reason, I think that APRs need to be applied at a reasonably micro level, and should be constantly monitored and used only for a specific amount of time – to achieve a specific goal regarding the health of the greater deer population. So far Missouri has managed the scope of the APRs reasonably well, and I hope to see that the measures are temporary and localized, as specified.
There is no denying that Antler Point Restrictions are, like any regulation change, a hot topic in the whitetail world, and if trends continue, it is something that hunters in many parts of the nation will be dealing with in the future.
What’s your take? Do you feel that Antler Point Restrictions are good for hunters, or are they a case of over-regulation?
All data and figures derived from the Missouri Conservation’s 2010-2011 Missouri Deer Population Status Report and Deer Season Summary.