Antlered Bucks Regressing Back to Spikes?

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 these 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. Now this year the only bucks we saw were spikes, at least 15 or more.

So I guess my question is … can spikes breed spikes? I always thought first year bucks were spikes. And if this 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? I hope you will be able to answer this for us. Thank you. (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 both 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 that you are seeing. Or, these 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 if we will ever see an end to California’s spike law.

The Laws on Collecting Feathers
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 season I may collect five to 10 feathers total. The bulk of these might be egret or turkey vulture feathers. How should I proceed in order to remain legal? Peace. (Bill)
Answer:Both of the birds you list are protected species. According to Capt. Phil Nelms (ret.), under both California and U.S. fish and wildlife laws, dead wildlife and its parts have the same protection as the animals do when alive. This protection also extends to all of the pieces and parts of animals. If it is illegal to possess the whole bird it is also illegal to possess any portion of it (e.g. feather, talon, leg, etc.)

I would recommend collecting feathers from birds which have a hunting season. Turkeys and upland game birds like pheasants and quail have beautiful feathers which 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.

Use of Decoys When Hunting Waterfowl
Question: I understand 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 this also exclude jerk string or pull string decoys that (a) “spin a wing” or (b) “flap a wing” by manual pull of a string? (Gambino A.)

Answer: Only natural wind-driven spinning wing devices may be used until after Nov. 30. The device you describe which would spin a wing falls under the mechanically operated category, thereby giving you an advantage, and thus is not allowed during this early-season 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.

Is it Legal to Take Lobster and Measure Them After?
Question: Is it legal to place lobsters into a receptacle (game bag) and then 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 here. 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(c)).

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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