There is a remarkable annual act of nature starting to take place any day now. A couple of years ago, I was turkey hunting when I saw something that fascinated me. As I sat overlooking a food plot, a deer stepped out 40 yards or so away followed by a second and then a third deer. They lingered just long enough for me to get a good look at them but no time to snap a photo.
The interesting thing I noticed about these three deer, something I’d never seen before, was that all three were bucks that had only recently shed their antlers. Each of the three had prominent circles – pedicles – on their heads where last year’s antlers had grown.
Here’s what happens in the world of the deer. Buck deer drop their antlers in late winter or early spring. Soon after losing their headgear, they start growing a new set of antlers they’ll have until this time next year. This new set begins as fuzzy knobs growing on the pedicles which are located on the buck’s head between his eyes and ears. The newly formed antlers are soft and subject to damage and for this reason, bucks are shy and reclusive; they’re protective of this new growth.
A couple of months before shedding antlers, bucks use them to hook and thrash bushes, brush and small saplings and to fight other bucks to establish dominance. Bushes and bucks are in no danger of being gored and thrashed in spring and summer because he is protecting his newly forming soft antlers.
According to a source I read about the growth of deer antlers, velvet is described as “vascular skin that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone.” This amazing material causes the antler it covers to grow at an amazing rate. In fact, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone. This fast rate of growth actually is a handicap to a buck because of the incredible nutritional demand on deer to re-grow antlers annually.
Once the antlers achieve their full potential for the year, usually by mid-September in our part of the world, the velvet has served its purpose. As it dries and is rubbed off on bushes by the buck, the antler bone actually dies. Here’s something I read that gave me pause. What deer hunters see, when that big buck comes slipping by the stand, is an animal sporting a head full of dead bone.
A fun activity many deer hunters like to pursue, now that hunting seasons are over, is to search for dropped antlers. There is a measure of excitement to hold in your hands the head gear of a big buck that will whet your appetite for what he’ll look like once hunting seasons roll around again this coming fall.
So, how do you find shed antlers? Where are the best places to look? I have had good luck stumbling upon sheds while scouting for wild turkeys. While looking for turkey tracks, I have on several occasions spotted an antler among the leaves and litter that has been cast aside by a buck.
Go where deer hang out, especially food plots, bedding areas and trails. One of the most likely locations where you might find dropped antlers is to follow a trail where it crosses a small stream or a fence. The antler is more likely to be found near where the deer touched down after hopping the obstacle.
The entire process of bucks growing velvet-covered, delicate antlers, to them becoming hardened and eventually being shed, just to do it all again every year is one of nature’s most amazing and fascinating feats.