According to Dr. George Bubenik, who has spent over 40 years studying deer and their antlers, there are three factors that you should focus on if you want your deer to have big, healthy antlers: nutrition, genetics, and stress.
When it comes to nutrition, you need to pay attention to the percentage of protein that the animal feed contains. 14 percent seems to be the magic number because anything higher is wasteful and may even cause damage to deer digestive systems, while anything lower will mean that a deer is not getting their nutritional protein needs met.
It’s not just all about protein, though, The number of calories and season are important too. Providing deer with more energy and protein in early spring can be beneficial while avoiding overfeeding during the winter months can be wasteful. Additionally, providing a good balance of minerals, including both calcium and phosphorus, is also important.
It’s important that as a producer you know the genetic heritage on both sides of the deer – i.e. the genetics of both the male and female. This is important because antler development is very much genetically based, with not all deer having the same genetic potential.
So keep in mind that while the size of antlers can be environmentally influenced, they are genetically determined.
To maximize antler growth, nervous deer should not be used as breeding stock. Research has actually shown that if deer are under pressure in the rut, are forced to focus on foraging or defending small territories, or are kept low in the herd hierarchy, deer will produce smaller antlers the following year.
This is because optimal antler growth requires a high testosterone level, which stress will lower.
As a producer you should therefore focus on practicing good management techniques to keep stress to a minimum if you want your deer to have larger antlers.