Wednesday, October 7 , 2015, 4:07 am | Fair 56º

Outdoors Q&A: Are Antlered Bucks Regressing Back to Spikes?

Read on for answers to that question and others about state regulations on hunting and fishing.

By Carrie Wilson |

Question: We are a family of deer hunters who have been deer (black tail) hunting the same area for about 30 years. In the past few years, we have noticed that more and more bucks are spikes. Some of the deer are ones that wander into our camp every year, so we know that they are at least a few years old, but they are still spikes. This year, the only bucks we saw were spikes, 15 or more.

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Carrie Wilson
My question is: Can spikes breed spikes? I always thought first-year bucks were spikes. If that is the case, since they are not hunted, is the spike gene being passed down? We saw spike deer with 15- to 18-inch antlers and big bodies, not first-year animals. With this happening, will California ever have a spike hunt to stop the spread of this gene? (Jennifer M.)

Answer: Most commonly spikes are either yearlings or bucks that have “outlived” their antlers and are regressing back to spike status. According to Deer Management Program supervisor Craig Stowers, since antler growth is dependent on genetics and habitat, some bucks may very well be passing that along — provided they could fight off the other bucks (or be sneaky enough) to breed the does.

Age classes of does in this state are not equal. We’ve been able to document that every 10 years of so we lose a bunch of does through old age and not much else. It may be that we lost one of those cohorts a year or so ago, which may account for the increase in spikes you are seeing. Or, those deer could be in an area that is mineral deficient or not providing enough other nutrients to sustain antler growth. To be honest, it could be many different things.

Stowers added that he doubts very strongly that we will ever see an end to California’s spike law. Click here to view a photo of spike bucks.

Question: I recently learned that in order to collect feathers that I would need a license. I hike mainly in the Baylands along the San Francisco Bay, and every so often I see a feather that would look good in my hat. In any given season, I may collect five to 10 feathers. The bulk of them might be egret or turkey vulture feathers. How should I proceed in order to remain legal? (Bill)

Answer: Both of the birds you list are protected species. According to retired Capt. Phil Nelms, under California and U.S. fish and wildlife laws, dead wildlife and their parts have the same protection as when the animals are alive. The protection also extends to all of the parts of animals. If it is illegal to possess the whole bird, it is illegal to possess any portion of it, such as feathers.

I recommend collecting feathers from birds that have a hunting season. Turkeys and upland game birds such as pheasants and quail have beautiful feathers that you may find in your outdoor treks. You are allowed to possess game birds, and though their take is regulated, you are allowed to possess their parts.

Question: I understand that it is unlawful to use electronic or mechanically operated spinning blade devices or spinning wing decoys when attempting to take waterfowl between the start of waterfowl season and Nov. 30. However, does that exclude jerk string or pull string decoys that “spin a wing” or “flap a wing” by manual pull of a string? (Gambino A.)

Answer: Only natural wind-driven spinning wing devices may be used until Nov. 30. The device you describe that would spin a wing falls under the mechanically operated category, thereby giving you an advantage, and thus is not allowed during this period. The jerk string type decoys, though, which either flap a wing or just cause ripples in the water, are allowed in the beginning of the season.

Question: Is it legal to place lobsters into a receptacle (game bag) and measure them later when on the boat or the beach? What is the criteria for hoop netters once they pull up their nets? At what point or time do they have to be measured? (Barry F., Redondo Beach)

Answer: The law is very clear. Lobsters may be brought to the surface of the water for measuring, but no undersize lobster may be brought aboard any boat, placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person or retained in any person’s possession or under their direct control. All lobsters shall be measured immediately upon being brought to the surface, and any undersize lobster shall be released immediately back into the water (Section 29.90).

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Her DFG-related question-and-answer column appears weekly at She can be reached at [email protected]

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