button buckThe Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission (TFWC) has changed the legal definition of a buck deer for the 2016-17 hunting season.

Previously, a deer with tiny spikes less than 3 inches long was considered “antlerless,” and did not count against a hunter’s annual 2-buck limit.

Under the new rule, any deer with boned antler “protruding above the hairline” is considered a buck and will count toward the hunter’s limit. I believe that button buck fawns, where the hairline is not broken by antler, will still be considered antlerless, but don’t quote me on that.

The new rule has caused a stir with Tennessee hunters. Many people point out that it can be difficult to distinguish a buck with tiny spikes from a doe. I agree. I don’t care how long you’ve been hunting, and how carefully you look at a deer’s head and body characteristics, you can still mistake a buck with nubs for a doe, especially at distance and in low light.

In fact it happens quite a bit. A biologist who has been involved in many deer-reduction hunts (where the goal is to shoot X number of does to help balance the herd) told me one time that it is not uncommon for 10-20% of the “does” they shoot to end up being bucks. These shooters are extremely experienced whitetail managers and hunters.

But Tennessee does give you 2 buck tags, so if you mistakenly shoot a tiny spike like that, tag it and keep hunting for your next buck. Who can argue with that?

Here’s the troubling thing. In the discussion, some Tennessee hunters think many people will shoot what they think is a doe, walk up and see that it’s tiny spike and hide it, without checking the deer. Or, leave the little buck to rot in the woods, so as not to burn a buck tag.

No good, ethical hunter would do either of these crimes. But unfortunately, I can see how it could and probably will happen. I can see rule causing some heartburn for state game wardens.

But many Tennessee hunters support the changes and more restrictive regulations designed to grow more mature and quality bucks in the state.

What you think of this rule? Is it hard for you to distinguish a buck from a doe? What is your state’s rule?