THE SPIKE WARS: Part 1: The Kerr Study By Dr. James C. Kroll

No issue, with the possible exception of shooting does, causes more arguments around campfires that the shooting of spikes. I remember vividly it came up very early in my career. In those days, giving a talk about deer management was a new thing and folks were clamoring for information. I tended to focus on the issue of herd control, and in the process generated considerable animosity in some East Texas counties.
One fellow stopped a friend of mine on an east Texas hunting lease one day and asked, “Are you Dr. Kroll?” My friend assured him he was not. The guy spit on the ground, turned away and
walked off! Yet, once we got by that contentious issue, the next one involved shooting spikes.
In 1973, much of the game regulations were being made by county commissioners.
You might think this odd, but that was the way it was. I remember having a javelina and chachalaca season in Angelina County! That is why we worked so hard later to get the “Uniform Regulatory Authority” bill passed in the legislature, giving Texas Parks &
Wildlife the say over seasons and bag limits. Up to that time, spikes were illegal
to harvest in many counties, including Kerr—the county where the Kerr Wildlife Management Area resides. Although flawed, the reasoning behind protecting spiked bucks had some merit, and is not unlike that now in play for counties with antler restrictions. It was at this time, TPWD decided to begin a long term study at the Kerr.
The Kerr study originally was set up as a three-phase study. The first was to study the impacts of nutrition
on antler development. It all began in 1974, when TPWD researchers set up pens at the Kerr Area, filling them with deer obtained from around the state. All were buck fawns.

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Articles, Deer Issues, Spikes


Welcome to

I hope that you have come here with the desire to learn more about the country’s most popular game animal. If you are actively involved in management and hunting of white-tailed deer you need to know about the role Dr. Deer and the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research has played during the past three decades. Whether you know it or not I’ll bet some part of your life as a deer hunter or manager has been influenced somewhere along the way from the work at the Institute.

Dubbed as “Dr. Deer” by friends and associates, Dr. Kroll and his many students over the years have developed the credibility of the Institute to a level that can be rivaled by few organizations. Probably no other individual has ever developed the same level of expertise in the biology and management of white-tailed deer. For decades many researchers shared the idea that everything important already was known about deer and that new discoveries with any substance were unlikely. To their credit, the published reports from the multitude of deer studies throughout the years probably would stretch to the moon and back. However, the world has changed dramatically and more rapidly in the last few decades than any time in recorded history. The discovery and application of new technologies continues to lead to new ideas in deer management and the Institute has led the way in a number of arenas.

Commonly found in hunting magazines and TV shows today, terms like core areas, travel corridors, staging areas and signposts are a few of the phrases coined and developed through long term radio-telemetry studies.

Game cameras have been called one of the most important advances in wildlife management since radio-telemetry. Yet, despite their popularity, some people have been left wanting more. Spotlight counts and helicopter surveys have been popular for years and they still are used to great extent. However, we all know they have many limitations and are just not very accurate. In an attempt to get around these inherent inaccuracies in counting deer we tried what was then the emerging field of automatic cameras triggered by infrared sensing devices. Subsequently, in 1997 we developed the technique to use game cameras to census deer.

However, we also recognized that counting deer was not the only useful way to employ game cameras and began looking at other ways to use them in everyday deer management. Since that time “Let me show you my deer!” has becoming one of the most common greetings with people interested in deer hunting and management. In doing so, they’re not talking about driving around the ranch trying to spot animals in the brush. Instead, they are pouring over photographs taken with one of the myriad types of game cameras now available on the market.

It’s not uncommon for someone to have a stack of photographs handy to show off to friends on how their deer management program is going. Others post photographs on Internet forums seeking advice on age and score of different animals. Outfitters and commercial leases use photo displays from these cameras to advertise the quality of their deer to potential clients. Managers use the cameras not only to track their progress, but also to inventory how many animals they have. All of the uses for game cameras probably have yet to be discovered, but there is no doubt about their popularity.

A less well known but no less potentially important tool we developed in conjunction with the late Dr. Jerry Stuth at Texas A&M University was being able to predict the quality of a deer’s diet simply by looking at their fecal material; yes, we mean their poop. To the scientific minded the technique is known as near infrared reflectance spectroscopy. That’s too big of a mouthful for most, so we usually just refer to it as NIRS for short. Basically the technique is to take a fresh sample of pellets from the pasture and send them in a cool pack to the lab. In the lab the samples are dried, ground into a fine powder and scanned with several hundred different wavelengths of near infrared light. Using the mathematical equations we developed during the field trial portions of the study, the machine can predict the protein level, digestible energy and phosphorus level of the deer’s diet.

Also, twelve years ago we started another landmark study that has had significant results for hunters and deer managers. The study involves following the antler development of free-ranging deer from their first set of antlers to their last. While field research has always been enjoyable, this study is one that is just FUN to do. Capturing and wrestling wild deer, measuring their antlers and then getting to let them go again to be caught another year.

Even though it’s fun, the results are meaningful and have been quite eye opening for some. How and when you cull bucks and whether spikes are really inferior are two questions that have caused more arguments among biologists, managers and hunters than probably any other aspect involving deer. You will have the opportunity to learn more about the results of this study and other aspects that are coming from it here at this site.

While some studies are best conducted in the wild, no good deer program is complete without a set of research pens. Therefore, we built the White-tailed Deer Breeding and Nutrition Research Center. The research pens are where the bulk of our pioneering work on semen collection and artificial insemination for deer has been conducted. The art of artificial insemination certainly is not new, but anytime you use a technique on a different species of animal the technique must be modified to the particular biology of the animal. The reason AI is so popular and successful in today’s deer operations comes from many long hours spent in research.

Of particular interest to many of our students is the research pens allow us to provide a real world situation for the lucky few selected to work there. The research pens are totally supported by the animals without any outside monies. If the animals do not do well and produce a product there is no income. No income translates to no job. Our students learn quickly their research is not just about collecting numbers and going to class. Responsible care of the animals and attention to detail is paramount for their success.

The list of research projects we have conducted is far too long to enumerate. The ones mentioned we feel provided particularly important new aspects to deer biology and management.  We feel our current and upcoming research projects will also provide you with interesting new insights. As part of this site you will have some of the first looks at the results as they come in.

As we launch this site I look forward to interacting with the delightful people associated with the whitetail world.

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Articles, Ask Dr Deer, Books, CWD, Deer Issues, EHD, Events, Updates, Videos