Antler growth just a part of nature


Hormones! They cause us more trouble than we like to acknowledge, and so it is also with all wildlife creatures as well.

Right now, hormones are whirling in whitetail deer, producing the antlers hunters will so avidly look for in the winter deer season.

We wonder how it is that a male deer grows a new set of antlers every year. One of the wonders of nature, I guess. Most male deer lose their antlers each year, and it is not because they freeze and fall off at the first frost. That myth has been around for generations. If that were so, every buck in the woods would lose his antlers at the same time, and we know that is not the case.

Even now, in early summer, as we go spotting for deer we are looking for the first sign of new antlers growing. This year I have seen a few that already have impressive antlers.

The growth of antlers in spring is sparked by the changes in the glands that secrete male hormones. These hormones do not cause any interest in breeding, as they will in the fall, they simply stimulate a buck’s rack to begin growing.

By this time in July a buck’s antlers are pretty good sized, tender to touch or bumping against anything and covered with a thick fuzzy skin called “velvet.” This velvet nourishes the antlers and helps protect them from injury.

Antlers develop quickly through the summer, and by early autumn, about late September, the velvety covering becomes itchy under antlers that have now hardened.

So a buck begins to rub them against springy trees to get the velvet off and strengthen his neck muscles for the sparring jousts he is going to have to engage in with other bucks as the “rut” begins.

So if you hear the hunters in your home talking about finding “rubs” and “scrapes” (bare spots on the forest floor that a buck scrapes clean and then deposits his scent as an invitation to any ready does to join him there to commence the breeding,) you’ll be somewhat conversant with what is going on in the woods.

According to the Game Commission, the changes in glandular activity have been found to be influenced by the amount and intensity of light present during the various seasons of the year and not by temperature changes.

Bucks do not shed their antlers all at the same time. Some lose theirs in November, but most antler drops occur in late December to early January. So when we are celebrating Christmas and hunkered by the fireplace, bucks that made it through the hunting season are preparing for surviving the winter. And freeing themselves of unneeded headgear.

A good diet and the right minerals in the forage he eats play a large part also in the size and strength of a buck’s head adornment.

In recent years, many outdoors persons have become attracted to shed-hunting; that is, going out after season and trying to locate shed antlers in good condition. One definite thing that does is to show the hunters exactly where a buck was when his antlers dropped. That gives a good clue as to just where to start scouting for that buck for the next season.

Many hunters have dogs, usually Labradors, to specifically hunt and locate shed antlers. The Jaffa Outdoor Show featured a great seminar on that subject last year put on by Hollidaysburg’s Teresa Patterson.