In the eyes of a big game hunter, the size of the antlers tends to be the measuring stick of a trophy elk or deer.
Although as I get older, I have found there is just so much more. It may be the rigors of the hunt or the personal challenge of harvesting a particular animal. For others, it could be experiencing the solitude of the wilderness or hunting with a friend for years — helping each other find that elusive buck.
Yet, when the casual observer views that huge rack of an elk or deer it is definitely an attention getter.
The question often asked is, “How do those animals grow such massive racks?” It is not by shear chance or luck. There are three factors that contribute: age, genetics and nutrition.
This year, the rains have been good and the areas below 3,000 feet are already blanketed in green with an abundance of wildflowers. This is a main food source for deer, elk and other wildlife. As spring creeps up the mountains to the alpine meadows, new growth will benefit all wildlife, especially the elk and deer herds.
The 2019 fall hunting seasons could produce some massive racked bulls and trophy antlered deer.
Last year, Arizona had an extremely dry winter and the drought conditions did not allow spring grasses and other vegetation to grow new foliage.
Elk and deer shed their antlers in early to mid spring and the new growth begins immediately. What they eat determines in part the size of the antlers. If there is very little vegetation, antler growth is minimal.
Regarding the age factor, with a deer it is at least five or more years of maturity, while an elk’s antler size is somewhere between seven and 10 years. For an elk or deer to reach this age, hunting pressure is a critical variable. How a hunting unit is managed often determines the number of mature animals in the field.
The third factor, genetics, is more difficult to evaluate. Certain areas have better gene pools, which consistently produce bigger animals in antler size.
For instance, the White Mountain Reservation is noted for massive racked bull elk and the bordering units on the east and west will have some of these bulls breeding the cows during the rut. Consequently, those genes will impact the existing elk herds.
The elk permits deadline has passed, but the deer application process is still a couple of months away. This would be a good year to draw a whitetail or mule deer tag. Keep in mind though that a trophy is in the eyes of the beholder.