I have always found this fascinating. The only thing I find more fascinating than the scientific aspect of this topic, is the irrational back-and-forth between opposing sides. Much of what has been argued for the past several decades has been conjecture, or theory, or opinion—rather than science. As in most instances where discussions are based on emotion, rather that fact, they rarely result in any positive outcome. The beauty of the current technology is that it offers unequivocal results, which are absolute.
I personally never base any opinions on things unless they are backed by scientific facts. With a journalism background, an obligation to impartially collect data for Pope & Young and a true fascination with the scientific aspect of this topic, I will try my best to show a lack of bias and strictly report facts. I am not a scientist, just a bowhunter who is passionate about record-keeping organizations and the science behind it, trying to make the intricate information easy to understand for everyone. All of this information was gathered from an article written by many of the researchers involved in the DNA project. The article appeared in both Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young newsletters. I hope this helps:
The goal of the study was to describe the extent of hybridization between blacktails and mule deer, evaluate the current boundaries between the two species and develop a genetic test to diagnose deer that are not purebred.
Blacktails and mule deer have very different mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Without getting too in-depth, mtDNA is different than the DNA that is responsible for visible traits (i.e. tail color, body and antler size, metatarsal gland length). MtDNA is passed only from the mother’s side of the family.
According to the article, the genetic differences in the two species stem from early ancestors of mule deer/blacktail isolated along the Washington and Oregon coasts by Ice Age glaciers. The period of isolation was long enough to create a difference in physical and genetic traits between the groups of deer, but they were still able to reproduce. In certain areas, such as the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, the two subspecies have remained in contact. The result is an area of intense hybridization. As hunters, we have known about these areas for decades and terms have even been conceived to describe deer in these areas of overlap. In the Cascades, the “cross-breeds” have long been called benchleg bucks.
These areas have been an important focus for record-keeping organizations because it is vital for the records program to not taint the records for the smaller specie (blacktail) with the genetics of the larger specie (mule deer). Because of this importance, the data collection of the samples throughout the area in question was necessary and is explained below.
Samples were analyzed with microsatellite markers and each sample was assigned a “q-value.” The scale was between 0 and 1, with 0 referring to a pure mule deer and 1 being a pure blacktail. Since the vast majority of deer are not absolute 0 or 1, a range of values was needed to represent pure mule deer and pure blacktail. Genetic samples from far outside of the “cross-over” zone were used to establish those value ranges. Q-values of 0-0.12 were created as a pure mule deer zone, while q-values between 0.9-1 were established to show pure blacktail deer.
The q-values between the two pure zones are used to define areas of hybrids. First-generation hybrids (F1), were assigned to any q-values between 0.34 and 0.67. Any animal residing between the unassigned q-value zones above (F2) are results of hybrids breeding or a hybrid breeding back to a pure bred. Since cross-breeding between hybrids is very complicated, assigning an exact genetic lineage is improbable, however, with the q-value system, it can be discerned with confidence the difference between pure parent types and those animals that are not pure.
Interestingly, the study showed that hybridization along the contact zone was “bidirectional and symmetrical,” meaning that hybrid offspring had both mule deer and blacktail fathers. And that they occurred in equal proportion. Even though mule deer bucks are larger than their blacktail cousins, bucks from each group mated at an equal pace with does of the opposite species.
At the conclusion of the study, it was proven that the long-established line of B&C and P&Y does a good job of defining the geographic division of mule deer and blacktails. Also, movement data from radio-collared deer were consistent with the current boundary.
Both B&C and P&Y have instituted guidelines to keep the records programs accurate. Since it would be impossible to go back and test all current entries, the guidelines have been instituted to use in the evaluation of any questionable bucks due to characteristics or geographic locations moving forward. In fact, it has been used for several years, with excellent success, thus far. Each year, many bucks are being tested to prove genetics and to ensure proper placement into the records program.
This summary is just that—a summary of a very thorough and complex genetic study. I hope the facts of the study above are a good introduction into the science behind genetic testing for everyone. Due to the long history of hybridization of mule deer and blacktails across certain geographic areas, it is difficult to perfectly map out the exact lineage of a specific animal. However, it is possible to genetically prove if an animal if pure or not in terms of these two species.
If anyone has a buck they would like to have tested, please feel free to contact me. I hope individuals on all sides of this debate can use this information properly and as a scientific backing. I hope it wasn’t too dull.
Since this time, I have collected and submitted a sample from a great California buck outside the blacktail boundary for Chris as well. The results are not yet in.
I have also had requests from several other bowhunters with interest in sampling their bucks, which I hope to accomplish this year.
From my conversations with Zack, no fur is required as the sample is from the pedicle.
For Joe's buck, it is not as simple. The 0.64 number does not represent the buck as 64-percent blacktail. That is not the way the q-value scale works. However, it is not perfectly clear whether the buck is a first-, second-, or 20th-generation hybrid. The q-value shows it could be any number of combinations. It is possible, the buck is the offspring of a blacktail and a mule deer. It is also possible--and more likely--it is an offspring of two hybrids of varying levels of hybridization.
For the record-keeping organizations (B&C and P&Y), it takes a q-value of 0.90 to be considered pure blacktail.
I wish I had a more clear-cut answer for you, but I do not. That is part of the reason I find this so fascinating!
In the pope and young magazine you gave me a couple years back they also had an article re this same subject explained the same. The test they did showed to me a surprising number in Oregon and Washington (California was not in that test I don't beleive or at least not included in the article and map included if my memory is correct) deer which tested as hybrids west of the boundary towards the coast. The article mentioned if any buck west of the boundary is questionable it would be required to be DNA tested to be entered into the books. So if if this is correct and my memory is true, what meets the "questionable" classification? Size? Potential buck in top of the books, state or WW?
Thanks buddy I can't save all my questions for November on Kodiak as we gotta kill bucks, fish, and bs about other stuff. Lol
Just as America is the great melting-pot, you must hunt in the melting-pot of California--where deer see no prejudice and believe in equal love for all.
Questionable would cover a multitude of things. Thus far for B&C, any bucks that have been invited to the two-year convention for panel measuring have been tested. These were the largest bucks taken during the past scoring period. Also, anyone with bucks that have been taken outside the blacktail boundary who wish to challenge classification, are having DNA samples taken.
Conversely, bucks that are taken within the blacktail boundary, but have questionable characteristics, or are of a certain size (invited to the panel scoring), can be subjected to DNA testing. In fact, a large buck taken within the boundary was found to be hybrid and removed from the B&C blacktail record program.
Yes, his buck was accepted as a Blacktail......it was taken just outside the B zone (western edge of C zone???). To date, it's the only buck tested that has been reversed to make it eligible for Columbian Blacktail.
For the record, I do not do any of the testing. That is done by much smarter people than myself. As an official measurer, I merely collect the samples to be tested.
Jim Heffelfinger has been involved in DNA testing for various deer species across North American for about 20 years. He has work on testing between mule deer and coues deer in Arizona, the Blacktail vs. mule deer topic and others. He was one of the authors of the articles referenced above. I do not know the extent of all the studies he has been involved in, but would expect to see more results like the ones above in the future.
trkyslr: I remember that map as well with all the dots on it superimposed over the established boundrys. Maybe someone can find it?
Saw a similar thread asking about Shiras Moose shot in Canada so I wonder if the same test can be done for Moose?
I have the map, but since it was generated by B&C and I don't have the permission to post it, I left it out. If someone could find it on the Internet though, I'm assuming it could be reposted without any issue...
There are DNA studies going on for Shiras moose right now. However, when I asked P&Y several months ago about taking samples for testing, I was told they are not currently accepting challenges for Shiras vs. Canadian moose DNA samples. However, I completely expect that they will in the near future.
very well-written piece.
Personally, as a guy who spends a lot of time hunting hybrids, this is really interesting stuff.
16 were blacktails east of the PY/BC line (7%). 52 blacktails west of the PY/BC line (23%). 42 hybrids west of the PY/BC line (19%). The hybrids west of the line accounted for nearly 40% of all the deer west of the line with many as far west near the coast. Interesting... 68 hybrids east of the line (30%). 1 mule deer west of the line (.004%). 45 mule deer east of the line with a group tested way far east (20%).
Wish the map and test would have gone down into Northern California as the mountain range the boundary line is on which runs down from Washington through Oregon then splits into the Sierra Nevadas. Be interesting to see if the numbers would stay consistent and where in the northern or central part of the California state there might be a dramatic change in the results. Maybe in the next few years an updated map will be produced with the new DNA test results that have been discovered since this article.
With such a large number of "hybrids"both west and east of the line, is the line accurate and or maybe should there be another deer catagory for them to fill the void? Doesn't seem right in my opinion that 40% +- of those hybrids west of the line that are possible majority blacktail with hybrid bred into them are a "mule deer" in the books when they're DNA proves they're not a mule deer that there a "hybrid". A Simple way to resolve this could be test all entries and have a new species, but maybe too much work and money to entertain. Maybe not. Not trying to stir the pot just some food for thought based upon facts of this test and article.
'Ike' (Phone)'s Link
That said, it'd be nice if the clubs could add an entry and have it as an option if people wanted to get their deer tested and otherwise just use arbitrary lines. I could shoot the biggest deer on my mountain range that's lived in the past 20 years and it wouldn't make P&Y top 10 because the deer are hybrids so they don't qualify as BTs and their genetics will never allow them to get as big as a CO deer.
That map really makes me wonder about the top 10 BT entries for both clubs. What if 7 of them are hybrids and 1 is a MD? Is that the system we want?
About two years ago, I was contacted by a hunter that took a buck that may have scored high enough to be a world record in P&Y. However, it clearly looked to be a hybrid, with the facial features of one species but the tail of another. The hunter was concerned about the expense of testing it before he would try to enter it, but P&Y was not willing to commit to paying for the testing, and it was never entered.
To be fair, and can see why they would not want to make such a decision until the animal was actually entered, but in this case it may have prevented the entry. That brings me back to the question about how expensive the testing is, and has B&C been willing to pay for this testing?
That's going to keep people from doing the testing, which is why I think it should be an option, with the other option just using the arbitrary lines. For top 10 animals though, I'm not sure.
Seem to me though, that if one is willing to go through the expense and hassle of DNA testing, that there should be a category for Hybrids if that's what it tests out as since you're proving that the deer is in no-man's-land as far as the record books go.
Ike, I agree that top 10 with all this new dna results news sorta speak and dna test results that anything with potential top 10 or state or world record should be required to submit a dna test. and that a hybrid category should be a species/category option.
The turn around time has been slow. Admittedly very slow. It has taken more than a year to get results so far. Part of the reason is there is a certain number of samples that must be collected in order to submit the samples to a lab for testing. The testings are done at several universities around the country. I hope as more entries are being tested, the minimums are met more quickly for the labs to test batches at a faster pace.
As Chris said, the hunter is responsible for the price of the testing. It is currently $100. Again, as more tests are being conducted--and as testing becomes easier--I hope that price will go down. As you know, entering animals into record-keeping organizations is completely voluntary and at no point should it ever be the responsibility of a conservation/record-keeping organization (not to mention a 501 c3) to be responsible for any payments like this.
Not sure what that string of words you put together means. None of this topic has anything to do with raising deer. I hope nobody is ever crazy enough to try anything that ridiculous. Luckily, we haven't had to deal with any high-fence/breeding issues when it comes to Blacktails. It would be a very sad day if it ever happens
And your thoughts that bucks killed just east of the line in the cascade range have a high percentage (40%) they're the same species of deer you or others have killed west of the books boundary line in Washington and Oregon? Should they be called and classified differently because of the line? DNA is DNA and doesn't lie of who or what a deer, animal, or person is. And it seems like a legit way to identify a deer vs a boundary line. A person really can't debate DNA even with physical characteristics appearing to be one or the other right? Hopefully the test become cheaper to conduct. And I'm in that if someone wants to enter a buck it must be tested and a new species category be added for the hybrids. Prob won't happen even during my lifetime but id be for it.
Imagine if the deer species (blacktails, hybrids, mule deer) range by DNA counts/percentages from the coast east to the western face of the Sierra Nevadas in Nor Cal was the same or similar as oregon and Washington by the above map.... Just saying ;-) disregard this last part, but would like to hear thoughts on the above questions if you have time. Thanks.
#northamerican30 lol ;-)
That said are some really so hung up on checking boxes of species "officially" shot they'll pay for DNA testing?
I do believe, with this technology, it MAY afford both Clubs the opportunity to implement some scientific safeguards on questionable trophies. Time will tell as more specific data is retrieved. As always, and I agree with, if a hybrid of two species is discovered, it should be recorded in the larger species category. I do not believe B&C will create a "new" species for hybrids.
As for those and deer like the Hybrid, it's been left up to the state level organizations to recognize them in their books...Or so I believe!
Johhnie, I haven't heard of any, but with the testing mentioned, any things possible...
I did contact a Pope & Young official who said that last year Boone and Crockett started DNA testing all panel judged blacktail submissions, which in fact resulted in a buck from west of the boundary as a hybrid and not entered. He said Pope & Young is gonna follow the same exact practice. Panel judging each year is for the top bucks killed that year which could make top 10 and even below. I'm glad to see the organizations are seeing that based upon test results and submissions there is hybrids in the blacktail zones and that a boundary highway can't keep species separated. This is a great step forward in my opinion to keep the records true to a species vs an invisible boundary line.
Ike , makes sense and I'll agree with that comparison.
Good thing we don't have to submit a DNA test to post a buck in the bowsite blacktail meatpole or a few more hybrids probably be called out based upon their DNA ;-)
Remember buddy, I have a BUNCH of those hybrid type bucks from the Golden State as well. Loan me a couple hundred bucks and I'll send off the samples. :) Heck, no need.....they're just nice CA bucks in my mind.
Okay, what's a "burro"?
burro deer are the Sonora desert deer that stretch across the deserts of AZ, CA, and Mexico. They're wide racked, small bodied, and sparse as hell, often having numbers of <1 deer per square mile in CA. I'm going after one this year.
IdyllwildArcher - "burro deer are the Sonora desert deer".... Hmmm, have heard of desert muleys, but first time for me ever hearing the term burro deer, thanks for sharing...
Dahhh, dummy me, knock, knock, hello - mule deer = mule/burro...8^)))
At least, that's the way I remember reading it. Current DNA studies support blacktail coming before white tail and all 3 deer species descending from a common ancestor.
I also have a few above 140 inches that were killed just over the line in B2. These must be pure blacktail?