BuckTracker: Do Feeders Grow Big Racks?

Dustin Dornbusch, a South Dakotan who obviously tuned into the baiting issue, wrote this week to ask if baiting results in more trophy-sized bucks. Baiting is illegal in South Dakota, and Dustin noted that while some big whitetails are shot in his state every fall, other places--including some bait-legal states--shot more. Was baiting the difference?

I'm assuming Dustin was inferring that the bait-legal states were giving bucks a nutrition bump that results in larger antlers. I don't buy this argument. Baiting is usually a short-term practice designed solely to give hunters a (presumably) better chance to shoot deer. But as soon as hunting season ends, bait disappears, forcing whitetails to eat whatever food is available to them. I can see no long-term benefits in baiting that would result in bigger antlers.

Supplemental feeding--where deer are supplied with protein-rich pellets, cereal grains, etc. throughout the winter--is another matter. Bucks that aren't stressed for feed in the long weeks between post-rut and spring green-up should go into the antler growing season in better shape and therefore grow a nicer rack. However, the cost of supplemental feeding prevents it from being practiced by a significant number of private landowners in most areas. And I know of no state agency that has spare money--or interest--in the practice.

There are many factors that help some states produce more record book bucks than others. I don't know all the particulars of the South Dakota whitetail population, but my understanding is that the rifle season is held during the peak of the rut. This factor would, in my opinion, have more impact on how many trophy bucks exist. Whitetails need age to grow big racks, and when states hold firearms seasons when bucks are most vulnerable, the majority get shot before their second birthday. I know this, because I live in such a state!