Managing Trophy Whitetail Deer: Labor of Love & Patience

The third article of our three-part series, in which we conclude discussing procedure and get to talking about trophy whitetail deer.

We hope we’ve shed some insight thus far on the intricate whitetail breeding process and the time and attention it demands.  Whitetail deer are complicated enough in the wild.  Trying to manage them in a domestic setting can be, quite literally, harder than herding housecats.  Whitetails are temperamental and easily affected by changes in their surroundings.  Savvy breeders understand this and go to great lengths to design facilities to comfort, nourish and calm their herds.  Ongoing monitoring for signs of pneumonia and immediate treatment if symptoms occur are imperative to ensure survival of deer fawns.  An overall, stable environment is absolutely essential in consistently producing trophy whitetail deer, year in and year out.

On that note, let’s check in with the yearlings to see how things are coming along.  You’ll recall, when we last left our heroes they had been attended to by staff specialists, getting vaccinated and hair sampled.  After they’ve been thoroughly evaluated, the staff releases the breeder does and yearlings back into pens.  The young deer have some growing to do before they enter the heavyweight class of “trophy whitetail deer,” and they must continue steady protein intake to ensure proper antler growth and maximum upside. 

Protein is a vital link in the trophy whitetail deer chain.  As finicky as they are in mannerisms, they are even more so when it comes to nutrition.  There are variations of competing opinions and lots of knowns and unknowns about the nutritional intake of whitetails.  But there is one constant: protein.  Without adequate levels of protein, deer absolutely fall to pieces.  It can have long-term effects on reproductive viability, body development and (most importantly) antler potential.  On the other hand, with a protein intake of somewhere around 15%, deer just seem to…click. 

At a certain point, the year-old, burgeoning trophy whitetail deer have to be moved into a larger area.  Some of these yearlings will ultimately be sold to other landowners as breeder or stocker bucks, the balance witll be released on Escondido Ranch.  However, this inevitable release poses a problem. If left for too long in the small pens, the yearlings will have trouble adapting to a free range.  They may have difficulty foraging and have even been known to just walk fence lines until they die of starvation or lack of water.

Given these delicate sensibilities, the deer have a higher survival rate when released gradually. (“baby steps” again!)  The yearlings are ushered into a larger area, say…a 60 acre pen where they learn to eat and roam naturally. 

Within a year or so, the once knock-kneed fawns have taken the final step towards becoming a true trophy whitetail deer.  Antlers have arrived.  With the caliber of deer we’re talking about, a one and a half year-old buck carries some formidable hardware.  Even at such an early stage, familiar antler characteristics are already present.  While his antlers will grow larger and larger each year, it will quickly be apparent that his sire and dam’s acorn didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree. 

In just a little over a year, they’ve gone from “fawn” to “yearling” to full fledged “buck.”  Within another year they’ll become the real thing, true trophy whitetail deer with some of the world’s best antler genetics flowing through them.  These mature bucks are now carriers, capable of passing their superior genetics to other does in whatever part of the state they land.

And there you have it, the complicated process through which deer become legends.  The progression is labor-intensive and requires an attention to detail that would derail an accounting office.  Professional deer breeding certainly isn’t for everyone, but those that do it well are rewarded with something really special.  And just think, when that trophy whitetail deer steps out at the end of that cold hunt, you’ll not only be able to see where he’s going, you’ll have an idea of where he came from as well.