The lifecycle of a white-tailed buck’s antlers is one nature’s most wondrous miracles.
In fact, a recent article in “Adirondack Life” by E. Folwell, “The Nature and Art of Antlers,” compares growing antlers to buds bursting into leaves as spring transitions to summer. And then as autumn fades to winter, antlers fall to the ground much like leaves in autumn.
The similarities don’t end there. Just as buds pop from bare branches as winter surrenders to spring, buds start pushing up from the bucks’ heads. Budding antlers, however, are covered with a fuzzy, protective coating called “velvet.” The velvet’s underlying vascular structure makes antlers one of the fastest growing tissues known to science.
Antlers blossom from nubs to their season’s maximum potential in less than five months. This process is so incredible that healthcare professionals study antler growth in hopes of better understanding bone loss in humans.
Nutrition is one vital factor that dictates antler size. Bucks in farm country, for instance, usually sport larger racks than their big-woods counterparts of the same age. However, vast swamps, large forests and rugged terrain help backcountry bucks avoid danger and live longer than many farmland bucks. In fact, some deer die of old age if they live in areas that seldom see human hunters.
Bucks that survive diseases, starvation, hunting season and four-legged predators drop their antlers between December and March. That process starts with shorter days and decreasing testosterone that weakens the antlers’ hold on the buck’s skull. A new set of antlers soon starts growing each year, and usually reaches maximum growth when bucks reach age 5 to 7.
Shed antlers aren’t without value, however. They provide essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, which nourish gnawing mice, voles, squirrels and other rodents. That’s why it’s common to find shed antlers marred with tiny chew marks.
As these animals chew shed antlers littering the forest floor, next year’s antler crop starts regenerating. Likewise, plants send up new shoots, buds begin bursting from limbs and branches, and the woods reawaken after a long winter’s slumber.
Nature’s work is never done. Keep that in mind if a well-known buck in your hunting area falls to someone else’s gun, bow or even a motor vehicle. Don’t worry. Just as leaves will undoubtedly refill the trees by midsummer, another buck will soon emerge to attract and hold your interest.