Research shows slight decline in big game antler, horn size

February 4, 2013
UW-Led Research Shows Slight Decline in Big Game Antler, Horn Size
Kevin Monteith, a postdoctoral research scientist with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, poses with a buck mule deer he harvested on an archery hunt in western South Dakota. Monteith led a research team that concluded the size of trophy horns and antlers of most species of North American big game has declined slightly over the past century.

(Phys.org)—A team of scientists led by a University of Wyoming researcher recently reported that the size of trophy horns and antlers of most species of North American big game has declined slightly over the past century, most likely as a result of intensive harvest of males.

Kevin Monteith, a postdoctoral research scientist with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Research Unit, conducted the study along with colleagues from Idaho State University, the University of Montana and state wildlife agencies in California and Arizona. It was published this week in The Wildlife Society publication, "Wildlife Monographs."

In analyzing more than 22,000 records compiled by the Boone and Crockett Club over the past 108 years, the researchers found a small but statistically significant decline in trophy horn and antler size for 25 categories of North American big game animals, including , moose and elk. The researchers, all of whom are hunters, then set about to find reasons for the decline, which was, on average, 1.87 percent for trophy antlers and 0.68 percent for trophy horns from 1950 to 2008.

UW-Led Research Shows Slight Decline in Big Game Antler, Horn Size

The most likely explanation, Monteith says, is that heavy of males may have resulted in a gradual shift toward younger males—in other words, fewer males are reaching large trophy size before being taken by hunters. The study also looked at the possibility that removal of the biggest-antlered and -horned animals has depleted the gene pool over the years, but the research found limited support for that hypothesis.

"If there were truly a over time, the decline may have been more substantial over 108 years, and we would not have expected increases in size among categories like that observed for pronghorn and ," Monteith says. "In reality, the changes were small and consistent with a gradual push against the age structure due to harvest of males."

Through careful analyses, the biologists ruled out several other potential causes of the decline, including climate change, habitat alterations, and the "sociological effect" of increased interest among hunters in submitting trophies to the record book.

While some people may be alarmed at any decline in the size of trophy antlers and horns, Monteith says he sees the study's findings as evidence supporting the North American model of wildlife management—which focuses on harvest of males over females. The system has largely maintained healthy populations of animals with subtle changes in trophy size. At the same time, the study shows that if wildlife managers and the public are concerned about the slight decline in trophy size, "our results suggest there's likely a pretty quick and easy fix—a slight lessening of harvest pressure on males."

"We're not trying to tell wildlife managers what to do," he says. "We're simply reporting the results from an impressive data set while offering some considerations for effectively balancing competing interests in overall opportunity for harvest and opportunity to harvest trophy males."

Explore further: Why are male antlers and horns so large?

More information: To see the study, go to onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wmon.1007/full

Related Stories

Why are male antlers and horns so large?

March 19, 2007

Why are male ungulate antlers and horns so large? Darwin, when proposing his theory of evolution and sexual selection, suggested that the size of male ungulate antlers and horns may reflect male individual quality, and thereby ...

Looking a trophy buck in the mouth

March 13, 2012

Researchers at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde have developed a more accurate technique than traditional methods for estimating the age of white-tailed bucks, said a Texas AgriLife Research scientist ...

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.