Study: Big Game Is Getting Smaller

By Jessica Robinson

If Teddy Roosevelt were to go big game hunting today, he might bring home slightly less-impressive trophies. That's because the horns and antlers of North American wildlife have shrunk over the last century, according to a new analysis.

Biologists used 108 years of meticulous trophy measurements kept by the Boone and Crockett Club. It’s a non-profit hunting group founded by Teddy Roosevelt.

The analysisshowed that the antlers of elk, caribou, moose and deer, and the horns of muskox, bison, pronghorn, mountain goat and other animals … all got consistently smaller, especially in the last 50 years. The reduction wasn't much: less than 2 percent.

Terry Bowyer: “But there's absolutely no question that it's real.”

Idaho State University biologist Terry Bowyer was part of the team that did the study. He says the reason appears to be hunting – sportsmen simply going after the largest males.

Terry Bowyer: “Such that animals didn't grow large enough to have very large horns and antlers.”

Bowyer says there was some evidence -- albeit limited -- that hunting has changed the gene pool of certain species.

Scientists ruled out changes in climate and habitat as other possible factors in the reduced trophy size. The peer-reviewed study was published as a stand alone paper by the The Wildlife Society.
Theodore Roosevelt in his buckskin hunting suit around 1885.
Photo: Theodore Roosevelt in his buckskin hunting suit around 1885. Credit: Library of Congress

Grancel Fitz measures an Alaska-Yukon moose.
Photo: Grancel Fitz measures an Alaska-Yukon moose. Fitz helped develop the Boone and Crockett Club's measurement system for North American big game. Photo courtesy Boone and Crockett Club.

On the Web:

Study: “Effects of Harvest, Culture, and Climate on Trends in Size of Horn-Like Structures in Trophy Ungulates”

Boone and Crockett Club

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