Why are there antler restrictions?

Photo courtesy of Steve Sorensen This buck is evidence that Pennsylvania’s antler restrictions are helping New York. It’s my best ever in either state, and I shot it just before it stepped across the state line.

What states manage white-tailed deer for trophy bucks? Astute readers will recognize that’s a trick question because the list of states that manage deer for trophy bucks is zero. Iowa is not on the list. Nor is Ohio. Nor Illinois. Not a single state known for trophy bucks manages its deer to create trophies.

Some hunters seem confused about this. They criticize the Pennsylvania Game Commission for trying to transform the Keystone State into a trophy buck state and for trying to recruit non-resident trophy hunters from other states. After 22 years of its current antler restriction policy (AR), that has never happened.

“So, if AR does not turn white-tailed bucks into trophies, what is AR for?”

Thanks for asking. If any state did have management policies focused on creating trophy bucks, that state would deserve ringing criticism from hunters, deer managers, and biologists across the nation. Why? Because wildlife biology doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and deer management isn’t just about deer.

Biologists have common interests and common goals, and they learn from each other. They attend conferences where wildlife scientists present research and discuss deer management science, so they know what is going on in other states. Whether in state wildlife agencies, universities, or conservation organizations, their aim is to manage deer within the habitat they occupy and with the other wildlife that shares that habitat.

In other words, they manage deer for the health and sustainability of the resource (the deer) and for the habitat shared by other wildlife. But they don’t use the same methods.

Antler restrictions in Pennsylvania help ensure that white-tailed bucks reach older age classes. How is that a benefit? Back when 85% of Pennsylvania’s bucks were immature yearlings wearing their first set of antlers, the pressure on these young bucks to breed an abundance of does did harm to them. They lost significant weight during the rut. Weight loss is normal for mature bucks, but when virtually all the breeding responsibility is on immature yearling bucks, their immature bodies do not recover well from the rut.

The winter is especially tough on exhausted young bucks. They go through the winter underweight, at risk of malnutrition, and take much longer to recover. The effects can last years. Balanced age classes among bucks allow more breeding by bucks mature enough to do the breeding with less risk of stunting their growth.

If that’s true, why don’t deer managers in other states import Pennsylvania’s AR policy? Few states were in the condition Pennsylvania was 22 years ago, with 85% of more of the yearling bucks doing almost all the breeding. Even if AR did not result in larger antlers, the benefit of having older age classes of bucks would still have been a positive outcome.

Another reason not to import Pennsylvania’s AR policy into other states is that it may already be having an effect. Pennsylvania’s northern tier counties are densely populated with hunters, and many (including me) also hunt in New York’s southern tier counties. The same is true for New Yorkers–many cross over to hunt in Pennsylvania. I suspect many crossover hunters, knowing the positive effects of AR firsthand, hunt by the same standards in both states.

In the Adirondack region and other regions deer are not as densely populated, the hunting pressure is lower, and hunters tend to shoot older bucks. Wherever hunters try to avoid shooting yearlings (whether voluntarily or through social pressure), AR is unnecessary. That’s happening in many places.

Is AR needed in New York? At this point the 3-inch spike rule is probably all that’s needed precisely because many New York hunters like the positive things they see happening in Pennsylvania.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015, 2018, and 2023 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.


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