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The Antlers are Coming

It’s that time of year again — that time when we deer hunters start studying deer more closely in search of new antler growth. It’s not just deer hunters, though, since even non-hunters seem to get excited when they spot a set of big deer antlers. I know me and a lot of others are looking closely at the images of deer on our trail cameras in hopes of spotting this fall’s buck-hunting prospects.

The development and growth of deer antlers is, in fact, an interesting topic, and this past week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on antler development conducted by Kevin Wenner, a Wildlife Management Supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The following is some of the interesting information I gleaned from that presentation and some other Game Commission sources.

Antler growth usually begins around mid-March to mid-April. The timing of antler growth is triggered by the photoperiod or the amount of daylight available, and as the daylight lengthens, antler growth accelerates.

According to a study at the Mississippi State University deer lab, it was found that antlers are the fastest-growing tissue known to man, and antlers can lengthen up to 1.5 inches in a single day. A buck’s first set of antlers usually begin to show up when they are ten months old.

There are a number of factors that play an essential role in antler development. As already mentioned, increased daylight hours add to antler growth, but other factors also come into play, such as the quantity and quality of the doe’s milk, which improves as we move into spring.

Bear in mind that deer are often stressed through the winter months due to a lack of food sources, but come spring, abundant food sources begin to appear, decreasing stress and adding to the health of the deer. The increasing daylight, additional food sources, genetics, health, age, stress, and habitat quality all add to a buck’s antler development.

Several things can go wrong during antler development, and oddities can sometimes occur.

I’m sure many of us have seen something unusual in a buck’s antlers over the years, so what causes these oddities?

When a buck is still in velvet, when the soft developing bone is still covered by a layer of skin, hair, and blood vessels, they are more susceptible to injuries. An injury at the base of the antler or the pedicle can result in a “club-like” antler, and this deformity can persist for several years. Additional antlers growing beside the standard two could result from genes or cells being “transplanted” due to some type of injury. There is also a condition known as “contralateral effects,” where an injury to one side of a deer’s body can cause an antler deformity on the opposite side. Reasons for this are unknown.

Antlers begin to harden as the day lengths increase and the buck’s testosterone production increases. By the end of July, most bucks’ antlers are fully formed. It’s not long after that, and after spotting a few good buck racks, we hunters begin some serious scouting in hopes of collecting one.