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White-tailed Bucks Shedding Antlers

1-2-16-antler-049a2440Antlers, the fastest growing mammal tissue on earth, are grown by male White-tailed Deer (and very occasionally females) every year and shed every year. They begin growing in the spring, usually April, and complete their growth in August or September. During this period they are covered with “velvet,” a soft skin containing blood vessels and nervous tissue that supply oxygen and nutrients to the antler. Once growth ceases, the velvet dries up and falls off or is inadvertently rubbed off. The mating season of White-tailed Deer, or rut, during which time their antlers are instrumental in establishing hierarchy and securing a mate, peaks in mid-November. Once mating is over, the disadvantages of antlers (cumbersome shape for traveling through woods, and the energy required to carry them) promote the shedding of these bony structures. Specialized cells (osteoclasts) destroy the bone tissue between the antlers and the skull and antlers are shed sometime between the end of December and the beginning of February.

Most sources state that antlers just fall off or that the buck knocks them off by striking them against a tree. My personal observation of a buck in captivity clarified the way antlers are dropped, at least in this one instance. The buck put his head down, quickly jerked it up and to one side, and the antler went flying.

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12 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    With so many deer around here, I wonder why I’ve never found some antlers? I used to walk for hours in woodsey areas.

    January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    • Kathie Fiveash

      Dropped antlers do not last long in the woods. They are an important source of calcium for mice and other small rodents who use their rugged teeth to gnaw away at the fallen antler, eventually consuming it completely. If you do find an antler in the woods and examine it, you will probably notice the tiny teeth marks that demonstrate the activity of mice.

      January 12, 2017 at 9:09 am

      • Alice Pratt

        Thank you! To you and Mary! Very interesting! My son-in-law hunts deer, end of November, with friends. Who ever “tags” the deer gets the antlers. I also wonder why some female deer grow antlers.

        January 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    • Hi Alice,
      Kathie’s answer is exactly what I would have written to you. They are consumed almost as soon as they drop!

      January 12, 2017 at 9:44 am

  2. It’s quite a complicated process. Testosterone, corticoids, food availability, stress of rut. The coyotes, foxes and wolves all pick them up. Smaller critters chew them. Our bucks:

    January 12, 2017 at 8:29 am

  3. Bill On The Hill...

    Hi Mary… I do hope you saved it for posterity, otherwise it will disappear fast!
    Looks like the other half of a 10 point buck.
    I had a 171 lb. 11 point buck harvested on my property several years back now, it stood below my porch for 45 minutes the day before rifle season started. :>)
    Bill Farr

    January 12, 2017 at 8:30 am

  4. Ron Willoughby

    I believe that bucks purposely try to shed them.

    January 12, 2017 at 9:15 am

  5. shielaswett

    Oh, Mary, You have just answered a question I’ve mulled over for years, wondering about those antlers and why they must replace them annually! Many thanks once again :-))

    January 12, 2017 at 9:27 am

  6. Kathie Fiveash

    I think you should leave it in the woods for the mice to consume! They need it more that we do!

    January 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

  7. Faith Bieler

    I’m interested that the name for bone building cells in humans and deer seems to be the same..osteoplasts!

    Am I right?

    XI Faith >

    January 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm

  8. judilindsey


    I love your posts! They are always concise yet contain info I just have not heard or read anywhere else. You rock!

    Thanks, Judi


    January 14, 2017 at 9:38 am

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