Big Whitetail Bucks: Nature & Nurture

This article marks Part Two of our three-part series that takes an insider look at the many steps that go into breeding and cultivating big whitetail bucks. 

If you’ve never been to a reputable deer breeding facility and taken in the view, well…you should.  It’s a surreal experience.  We’re used to seeing mobs of cattle up against highway-side fences, contentedly chewing some grass or another.  Cows are easily spotted, highly domesticated, slow to react and even slower to move – basically the exact opposite of all things whitetail.  Walking within 70 yards of a large group of breeder does grazing on forbs in their secluded section of the facility and trading stares is a unique thing.  Whitetail deer have a majestic wildness about them that sort of puts you on tilt or at the very least demands a sense of quiet, mutual respect.

When we last checked in on our future big whitetail bucks, they were snugly in gestation among a group of highly pedigreed female breeder deer.  The does were placed in a special section of the sprawling facility, as far away from people and other deer as possible.  Isolation is a pretty important component as whitetail deer are notoriously skittish and highly sensitive to any sort of mechanized or otherwise unnatural noise.  It’s why the physical facilities have to be so carefully designed as well as exceedingly expansive, to give deer herds the space they need from people and each other.  Keeping impregnated does healthy and at ease is essential in producing consistently big whitetail bucks.

Typically, topnotch deer breeding facilities such as the Escondido Ranch make use of a large section of land that is then segregated into several game-fenced sections or pens.   Depending on the size of the herds to be raised, these individual pens up to 12 acres in size have to be pretty expansive, so the deer are free to roam, graze or carry on with their natural routines as limitlessly as possible.  The breeder females in our example would be housed in such an enclosure, eating super nutritious food and resting, soon to birth their fawns.  Like we were saying, growing big whitetail bucks is high maintenance stuff.

The fawns are birthed naturally under the careful observation of wildlife management specialists.  The newborns remain with their mothers and grow quickly under the influence of the mothers’ protein-rich milk.  They remain in seclusion for a while, as the breeder does recuperate and the fawns shake their sea legs.  Watching them, it’s almost unthinkable that one day pretty soon these bowlegged squirts will morph into truly big whitetail bucks. 

In the fall, the young fawns will naturally begin to wean from the nourishment of their mothers’ milk.  Facility staff members use this time to separate the fawns from mothers and group the fawns into the same sex groups.  Yearlings are gently vaccinated against deadly diseases and hair samples are taken and sent to a DNA laboratory where it is certified.  The yearlings’ transition to big whitetail bucks will not matter if they lack the right DNA certification.  In the North American whitetail deer breeding industry, pedigree is king.  Both sire and dam must have a certified lineage traceable through generations of high caliber whitetail deer or their value is significantly diminished.  It is why whitetail breeding programs must be built very slowly and methodically, incurring loads of paperwork in the form of research and lineage certification.

The yearlings still have a way to go before becoming mature big whitetail bucks, but the hair sample and ensuing DNA certification were the first step towards legitimacy.  In the meantime, there is hearty protein feed to be eaten, legs to strengthen and antlers to grow.  First things first, or…in this case, “baby steps.”