Just what makes a trophy whitetail deer these days? We’re guessing the answer would have a lot to do with the hunter you asked and the region in which they hunt. For some, any rack with an inside spread wider than 14” warrants a call to the taxidermist. Others might have slightly different standards. Either way, we’d like to broaden the definition a bit and talk about deer that would be considered once-in-a-lifers by anyone, anywhere, anytime.
There is a whole lot that goes into producing a true trophy whitetail deer, a deer with antlers so breathtakingly large that it would stop the heart of anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it in the wild. These are deer that are considered “trophies” for a reason, and they achieve their monumental status with some help from highly experienced deer breeders like the ones here at the Escondido Ranch. While DNA and cell reproduction do most of the heavy lifting, there is substantial maintenance and more than a few hours of research that go into safely breeding a trophy whitetail deer.
Quality deer breeding facilities are only built after exhaustive research. Input is everything, and thankfully the deer breeding industry is filled with knowledgeable and friendly breeders, usually quite happy to share their successes and failures. Facilities are carefully planned and meticulously built, designed to fit the breeder’s specific goals. A highly experienced staff must be hired to manage and maintain the population. There is never a shortage of activities or responsibilities, as caring for a herd of trophy whitetail deer is an especially labor-intensive process.
Trophy whitetail deer are produced either by the captive live breeding of two carefully vetted candidates, or, more commonly, artificial insemination. Breeders spend big money on superior buck semen, usually using the genetic material from a few specific proven deer to impregnate an established, equally proven line of breeder does. These impregnated does are then nurtured and monitored with a level of care to rival a modern maternity ward.
Once birthed and weaned, the males are separated and begin the development of their antlers. At this stage, captive deer require just as much observation and care. The fledgling trophy whitetail deer are given a very specific protein feed, designed with a precise protein percentage that is absolutely essential for proper antler growth. This is an important time in the buck’s life as it ingests nutrients and minerals that will shape it’s antler potential for years to come. Breeders watch closely to ensure the health and development of the bucks is on track. During this time the deer also receive vital vaccinations from various indigenous diseases.
Full velvet antler growth is reached in the late summer months. Once achieved, breeding facility staff members safely and humanely remove the antlers. This is a requirement by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for all breeders, if the deer are too be released, and, as the rut begins its quiet instinctual tug, it is for the safety of the animals as well as staff members. Male trophy whitetail deer have been known on occasion to become a bit ornery during that particular time of year.
Seeing the finished product is an awe-inspiring thing. A genetically superior whitetail buck is spellbinding, and, in this author’s opinion, rivaled only by the natural plumage of a drake wood duck. These monster bucks follow the strict guidelines of their genetics, growing antlers that challenge everything you thought you knew about just how large a rack could be. This is the moment where every breeder feels some pride. Even as they stand in full velvet, a group of them staring back at you with a prideful indignation to rival your curiosity, it is plain to see that with just a little science and some very hard work, creating a trophy whitetail deer is a very real possibility for the prepared and willing breeder.