JACKSON, Mississippi — Myths about wildlife are probably as old as man, and deer hunting has more than its share. While many have likely come and gone, others can still be heard at deer camps.
One misunderstood deer is the spike and the misconceptions go both ways. Some say they can grow into trophies while others think along the lines of once a spike, always a spike. Bronson Strickland of the Mississippi State University Deer Lab said both can happen, but neither is likely.
"You can have lots of spiked bucks that grow to a 120- to 130-class buck," Strickland said. "The probability of a 150- to 170-class is much lower than other deer."
With that, Strickland said the probability of a spike becoming a trophy all depends on what the hunter considers a trophy.
On the other end of the spectrum, Strickland said it is also rare for a yearling spike to remain a spike in adulthood.
"It's probably not going to happen, but it can happen," Strickland said. "Most always, probably 99 percent of the time, a yearling buck with spiked antlers will have forked antlers later in life."
"I hear it all the time — 'I'm glad we got that management buck out of the gene pool,'" Strickland said.
Removing what are considered to be inferior bucks from properties is a common practice and many believe it will improve the herd's genetics, but Strickland says culling management bucks won't do it.
"Culling is an ineffective tool," Strickland said. "The mother really has just as much to do with this as the dad.
"You can't control the mother's ability to produce above-average fawns."
At the same time, Strickland said culling can improve the herd. Removing a mature six-point, 200-pound eating machine is a good idea because the groceries he's consuming can go to other deer with greater potential.
Many events in the wild are attributed to a full moon and some still feel it affects the rut, but Lann Wilf, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Deer Program leader said that's not the case.
"No, absolutely not," Wilf said. "There have been multiple studies done, and they don't correlate."
Wilf said instead of a lunar event, it's solar.
"It's photoperiod," Wilf said. "It's length of day."
Although a full moon does not affect the rut, Wilf said he believes it does factor into deer movement.
"I'm just going to go on record as saying deer movement around a full moon is squirrely," Wilf said. "Personally, I don't like hunting around a full moon. They just don't do right."
Among most hunters, the explanation is that deer move more during the night with a full moon than other nights, but Wilf isn't so sure about that.
"They move a lot on a full moon, but I've seen them move a lot on other nights," Wilf said. "Nocturnal movement is going to be dictated more by other factors than the full moon."
Even though Wilf believes the full moon does alter deer movement, he said food availability, hunting pressure and weather have much greater impacts.
Another myth Wilf said he still hears is about the doe that is too old to produce fawns.
"There is no such thing as an old, barren doe," Wilf said. "She's going to have fawns 'til she can't — and that's usually when she's dead.
"If you're waiting on a doe with no fawns, you're going to be waiting a while unless you're hunting a really stressed deer herd."
Wilf said not being bred, disease and predation on fawns are all factors that could lead to a doe without fawns, but the main cause is nutritional stress.
Hunters routinely plant food plots and provide high-protein supplemental feed in their quest to grow big antlers, and while it is important, Wilf said it can't trump genetics.
"Nutrition allows them to express their full genetic potential," Wilf said. "Now, if he's supposed to be a 115-inch 8-point, that's what he's going to be.
"Managing your food sources with winter food plots and summer food plots is not going to blow up every deer to 150. Even in the Delta, the average mature buck is only going to score 135 to 137."
And there are other factors that hold back antler growth. Wilf said drought, floods, late births and the physical condition of the mother at birth are all obstacles. Because of that, he said less than 10 percent of bucks make it to the 150-class, and 170-class deer are about as rare as NFL players.
"Everything is working against them," Wilf said. "Every stress is working against them.
"It takes a perfect storm to create those deer."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com