Last month I hunted a friend’s ranch in West Texas, 5 hours west of San Antonio and 80 miles north of Del Rio. This is a raw, rocky desert environment that had experienced a long drought, though there is a good water system on this 1,000-acre property. My buddy Cecil recently purchased the ranch, and he has been running 8 to 10 corn feeders year-round. There has been minimal protein feeding here the last 2 years, but he plans to fill the protein feeders and increase supplemental feeding this year.

I hunted a week and one thing jumped out at me: 7 out of every 10 bucks of all age classes we saw had small and weak brow tines (that’s one of the bucks in the cam picture here) or no brows at all. I got to wondering, “Is this strictly a product of this rough habitat, or could it be genetics, or maybe a combination of the 2? I reached out to Kip Adams, a lead biologist with the National Deer Association.

“Nutritional stress definitely impacts antler growth, and drought is included in that,” Kip responded in an email. “Often though, nutritional stress is expressed as shorter tines; thinner beams and tines; and fewer G3s or G4s, but not fewer brow tines. That sounds more genetic related, but it’s crazy that that many bucks you saw lacked brows. I’d expect it from young bucks but not older ones. Did you see a lack of brows across all age classes or just 1- and 2-year-olds?”

While we saw no brows on bucks of all ages—in fact, Cecil passed up on TV a main-frame 10-pointer (3 or 4 years old) because of no brows—probably 90% of the small, immature yearling bucks were noticeably lacking brows.

According to Kip, most young bucks on this ranch, and in any herd across the nation for that matter, will grow brow tines as they age given adequate food and water for good nutrition. Supplemental feed with protein can help the overall nutritional plane and thus help grow brows and improve overall antlers.

Postscript: Luckily, I grinded it out and killed the biggest buck we saw all week on the ranch. The beautiful 8-pointer in the picture below did have marginal brows, but as you can see nothing to write home about.