Antlers are one of the most recognizable characteristics of deer. These annual bone growths have an impressive life cycle that begins in spring when sprouting, and end the next winter when falling off.
Let’s look at antlers through the year.
Antlers in spring are soft cartilage covered by a velvet-like skin. Their growth results from excess nutrition, and there’s plenty of it by late spring in most regions. Deer sprout 1- to 2-inch velvet-covered nubs at their antler bases – called pedicles – in April. These nubs slowly grow into two main antler beams with individual tines as summer nears.
High-quality forage in late spring and summer boosts antler growth. Food is so nutritious in some areas that antlers grow a half-inch daily. At the end of July, a deer’s antlers are nearly fully grown.
Daylight shortens quickly during late summer, and testosterone rises as bucks prepare for the rut. As a result, their antlers harden by early September as the velvet strips away.
Bucks use antlers for their true purpose during the breeding season, wielding them to exert dominance over other bucks and fight for breeding rights. To strengthen their necks and shoulders for those battles, bucks regularly rub their antlers aggressively on saplings and small trees. All that rubbing polishes and darkens their antlers. The primal fights between bucks often break antler tines, and even inflict serious injuries.
The bucks’ testosterone levels drop after breeding season. That change causes cells called osteoclasts to eat away at the pedicle, causing antlers to loosen and eventually fall off. That natural process doesn’t hurt the bucks.
You can witness the antlers’ life cycle by taking a hike right now to look for shed antlers. You can also monitor spring and summer antler growth by glassing fields and setting trail cameras where deer often eat, bed or travel. During fall, of course, you can best observe the rut from a treestand, with your bow hanging an arm’s reach away.
Do you want to immerse yourself in nature and experience bowhunting? Your journey starts at a nearby archery retailer. Find one near you here.