Whitetail Deer Antler Facts

Steve Johnson

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The white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is a medium-sized deer native to Canada, Central America, most of the United States and northern South America. Also known as the Virginia deer or simply the whitetail, it has been introduced to New Zealand and some European countries where its populations have expanded quickly thanks to its generalist nature and its ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats. Although white tail deer populations located in temperate climate and wooden areas seem to grow faster and bigger than others, the species has shown that it can adapt in harsher environments such as open prairies, savanna woodlands as well as mountain and desert areas.

Because of the fact that the white tail deer community is widespread and living in drastically different environments, the species has evolved and is now categorized into some 20 distinct sub-species. Differences between sub-species range from overall size, color, and body-to-antler size ratio. The climate and habitat of the different sub-species are the driving factors in those differences; whitetail deer living in the desert, mountains and savannas are considerably smaller than their relatives from the forest and plains areas. This is in part due to the availability and kind of food available, and in part due to terrain and herd movement. The Virginia whitetail (O. virginianus virginianus) is the dominant subspecies across the deer's range. Some subspecies, such as the Florida Key (O. virginianus clavium) and the Columbian whitetail (O. virginianus leucurus) are listed as endangered.

As is the case with most deer species, the whitetail buck grows a new set of antlers every year, and the antlers will typically re-grow bigger every year until it passes its prime at about 5-7 years of age. Bucks under two years usually sport small, spiked antlers, although the size of a buck's antlers is not a determinant factor of its age. Some bucks never grow antlers bigger than about 3 inches. These bucks are sometimes called “button” or “spiked” bucks. Button bucks with very small antlers, which are sometimes hidden in the hair, are often mistaken for does. It is interesting to note that the opposite can also be true, as one in about ten thousand female whitetail deer also grows antlers. This is usually the result of an abnormally high level of testosterone.

The buck's antlers typically start growing in the late spring. At that time, the buck's antlers are covered with a highly vascularised tissue commonly referred to as “velvet”. Growth of the antlers is very rapid, and continues on through to August or September in most whitetail deer. Some whitetail sub-species can grow as much as an inch of antler per day. In the early part of the fall, the bucks’ testosterone levels increase and trigger the hardening of their antlers through calcification. Once the soft growth has hardened and turned to bone, the velvet dries up and peels off. The bucks often rub their antlers against trees and bushes to help remove the dead velvet.

During rutting season, the deer's newly grown antlers come in handy in fights, displays of dominance among rival males, and displays of strength for does in heat. By the time the rut comes around, the buck's antlers are hard, polished bone with sharp points and will remain so until mating season is over. Buck fights can be heard over long distances and are characterized by the sound of the antlers colliding. This sound often attracts doe's in heat, who know a suitable mate will be available once the dominant buck wins the battle. Once the need to win their right to mate has passed, between late December and early January, the buck's antlers will be shed, and skin grows over the open wound left by the lost antlers. Older bucks usually shed their antlers before younger ones. Immature or unhealthy bucks have been known to shed their antlers as late as early spring. The whole re-growth, polishing and casting process then starts again in the spring. Shed antlers are rarely found in nature; because they are rich in calcium and other nutrients, they are often eaten by other animals, primarily rodents, soon after they are shed.
The whitetail buck's antlers can be classified as either typical or as non-typical. Typical antlers have points growing in a symmetrical fashion and shoot straight up to the sky from the main beam. Non-typical antlers are characterized by points growing at different angles in an asymmetrical fashion. A whitetail buck's inside antler spread typically measures between 3 and 25 inches.

Age, diet and health are determining factors in the size, shape and color of the whitetail deer's antlers. Antler size and mass will continue to increase in bucks until they are 5 to 7 years of age. Bucks 7 years and older will typically re-grow antlers with increased mass but that are shorter year after year. Plenty of food, but more importantly plenty of food that provides the buck with the necessary nutrients is essential to achieve maximum antler growth. The buck's diet not only determines the size of the antlers but also the mass and the number of points that will grow off the main beam. Sub-species of the whitetail deer established in savannah and desert areas typically have shorter and smaller antlers than those sported by bucks in woodland communities, simply because nutrients are scarcer and harder to come by. Body growth and general health take precedent over antler growth. This means that unhealthy or starving deer will typically grow smaller antlers, and will generally not be in a position to mate come rut season. Poor health or injury may also result in the deer growing deformed, partial or asymmetrical antlers.
The buck's antlers can also vary in color. This variation is usually the result of the amount of oxidized blood left over from velvet shedding and the type of plant the deer uses to help shed the velvet. The chemical reaction between the blood and sap present in the tree or bush used to rub the antlers can sometimes lead to interesting color variations.

10 Whitetail Deer Antler Facts

~ Deer Antlers are the fastest growing bone known to man and can grow as much as a ½ inch a day.

~ Deer Antlers are attached to the deer's skull at a point called the pedical.

~ Antlers begin growing in March or April and reach maturity usually in August.

~ While antlers are growing they are covered in a living vascular skin called velvet. The velvet supplies the bone with oxygen and nutrients.

~ After the antlers reach maturity, the velvet is shed and the bone dies. This dead bone structure is the mature antler.

~ Every year usually between December and March antlers and fall off, this is known as shedding.

~ Nutrition, Age, Genetics, Injury and many other factors influence antler size and shape.

~ About 1 in 10,000 female deer will grow antlers, although usually much smaller then normal mature antlers

~ Bucks will usually grow their first set of antlers at about 10 months of age. This first set is usually a spike or “fork horn”.

~ Whitetail Deer can have 2 different types of antlers, Typical and Non-Typical. Typical is symmetrical on both sides with points growing straight up off main means. Non-Typical are asymmetrical and can have points growing in any direction.

Posted by Steve Johnson under Deer Hunting on February 20, 09 02:19 PM | Permalink

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