The process of getting a whitetail from the button buck stage to the Boone and Crockett category is a mystical journey that includes a complex assortment of variables. It takes four basic ingredients to produce a buck with a 170-inch rack: genetics, habitat, herd management and age.
Too often hunters feel they can tell a buck’s potential by the kind of antlers it grows as a yearling. I’ve been fortunate to have hunted whitetails from New York to Texas to Saskatchewan, with many stops along the way. I’ve also had the unique opportunity of raising whitetails and studying their behavior for a quarter century. My journey as a hunter, photographer and researcher has taught me a few things about the whitetail. And one is that the size of a yearling’s antlers is seldom a predictor of what its antlers it will be when it fully matures.
When I was a young man in the 1960s, many researchers felt that yearling spike bucks were genetically inferior, at least from an antler standpoint. Time has a way of changing people’s minds and we now know that it’s extremely difficult to tell a buck’s antler potential by the kind of antlers it grew as a yearling. The photos that accompany this essay help to illustrate and refute the old claim of “once a spike, always a spike.”