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DNR NB defines Visible Antlers

In 1990, DNR introduced the Antlerless Deer Permit (ADP) system, a hunting strategy that lowered the hunting pressure on female deer.  Specific ADP quotas are identified for each Wildlife Management Zone, and hunters must apply through a draw system for a chance to receive a permit to harvest an antlerless deer.

With the advent of this system, any reference to the words “Buck” or “Doe” were removed from the Fish & Wildlife Act was removed and replaced with “antlered deer” and “antlerless deer”.  The act specifically states:

“antlered deer” means a deer with visible antlers;

“antlerless deer” means a deer without visible antlers;

The intention of the ambiguity is clear, DNR was looking to protect as many breeding does as possible.  However, with this ambiguity came a lot of confusion.  Every year, especially since the invention of social media, we hear hunters in New Brunswick give lots and lots of different “definitions” of what “Visible Antlers” means to them.  Before writing this article, we reached out to a very popular hunting group on Facebook and asked them what they thought “Visible Antlers” meant.  The response we got from this was amazing and diverse, and exactly what we expected. 

Here is a small excerpt of the answers we received:
- “The horn has to be at least 2 inches long according to DNR”
- “Visible bone is legal... if you can see bone”
- “Above the ears”
- “If you can see bumps your (sic) good”
- “It has to be 1 inch above the base of the head”
- “As soon as it breaks the skin it’s visible”
- “It doesn’t matter, let them grow”

As you can see, many people have a general idea of what “visible” means to them, and try to hunt based on that.  Most of the time, we like to believe that the moral compass of our hunting population understands the intent of the law and tries to hunt accordingly.  Most hunters, we believe, are not so desperate for a harvest that they make a habit of shooting button bucks and even those oddly knobby does that sometimes appear. However, in our opinion, where things really get complicated are in situations like the KV Nuisance Deer Hunt and Grand Manan Special Archery Hunt.  In both of these situations, you are expected to harvest an Antlerless Deer, or one without visible antlers.  In these circumstances, most hunts are occurring with a bow and without the aid of high powered riflescopes.  I suspect most of you have seen a small spike horn with 1” spikes.  15 minutes before dark at 40 yards, these spikes are no longer “visible” in our opinion, certainly not to the naked eye.  

A small spike horn whitetail buck

In the interest of clarity, we went directly to those responsible for enforcing the law, Conservation Officers with the Department of Public Safety.  They quickly provided us with their “Investigation Guidelines”, which we have included here:

A number of incidents relating to persons harvesting antlerless deer without an antlerless deer permit and subsequently attempting to register them have historically been an issue for staff.

To ensure a uniform and consistent policy application by enforcement staff throughout the Province, the following general guidelines are used with respect to the investigation.


“Antlerless Deer” according to Regulation 84-133 means a deer without visible antlers.  Visible means “capable of being seen” or “exposed to view”.

Therefore, if the antler(s) on the deer is (are) not exposed to view or cannot be seen, it is an antlerless deer by definition.

In all cases, the officer is required to investigate fully.  This means:

  1. Taking pictures, if possible, of the deer’s head at various distances

            (especially at distances and conditions under which the hunter has specified.)

  1. Making detailed notes at the time with respect to officer’s observations (notebook).
  2. Careful documentation of obvious alterations to the deer’s head that makes the antlers visible.
  3. Warned statements where possible.


In cases of possession of an antlerless deer or the hunting of antlerless deer without the proper permit, the deer will be seized.

If required, charges are pursued under Section 62 of the Fish and Wildlife Act for possession or under Section 3.1(1) of Regulation 84-133 for hunting.

We were thankful to receive this information, it’s always fantastic to know what the law is, in the eyes of the law enforcement officers, and finding out how the LEO will investigate cases.  That being said, we still weren’t a lot clearer about the word “visible”.   We wanted to continue to clear that up, and followed up asking for more information.  We included this photo of a button buck with barely visible antlers to see what the “official” position on a deer such as that would be.  What follows is the official response from an inspector:

Since there is no definition of visible in the F&W Act we would refer to the Webster dictionary definition as I copied below so basically visible to the human eye.

Then look at the definition of antler that speaks of a boney protrusion, and cast off every year.

Now from an enforcement prospective the spirt of the law is to protect does and fawns and I would expect Conservation officers to react accordingly, having said that they use plenty of discretion so if they believed the hunter actually thought the fawn was an adult they may just issue a warning, however if it was apparent the hunter knew the deer was a male fawn the hunter could be charged. My best advice is if you’re not 100% sure don’t shoot!

In the case of a button buck the bone is usually covered with skin with no visible bone protruding, this bump is not cast off that first year.

A button buck without visible antlers

In the case of the KV nuisance program again, if you’re not 100% sure don’t shoot! If an adult male was shot under this program both the deer and the permit would have to be forfeited if it was deemed a mistake. If it was apparent the hunter shot a large antlered buck under a nuisance permit various more serious charges could be pursued.

Hope this clears things up for you

The definition of “visible” according to the Webster’s dictionary is available here, but Roy provides us with a fairly good description of the intentions of the officers (to protect does and fawns).  The more interesting part in our opinions was pointing out the definition of “antler”.  This settles once and for all what “visible antler” means, at least in our opinion.  An antler is classified as the bone ABOVE the pedicel (base) which is cast off each year.  The “buttons” on fawn bucks may occasionally break the skin, but as this bump is not cast off, it should not be considered an antlered deer.

You’ll notice that there is a remarkable amount of discretion and in a lot of cases it clearly comes down to the intention of the hunter.  If you intend to shoot a doe, and you shoot a button buck with antlers that have barely broken the skin at 30 yards, a few minutes before legal daylight ends; the mindset of the officers should not be that of “gotcha” when you walk upon your harvest.  This bump would not be cast, and this fawn would be “antlerless” by the act.

We still have concerns that what’s visible at 3 yards isn’t visible at 100 and would much prefer to see a system adopted which clearly defines an Antler, but at the same time understand that making a law completely “black & white” can lead to an officer’s hands being tied when it comes to the intent of a hunter who simply made a mistake.   We are very happy to report once and for all the exactly definition as seen by Department of Natural Resources and make everyone aware of the correct procedure that officers should follow when investigating.  

2015-12-23 06:49:28


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