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White-tailed Bucks Shedding Antlers

White-tailed Deer bucks grow and shed a pair of antlers annually.  The main purpose of these bony growths is to serve as weapons against rival bucks during rut, or mating season.  During this time in the fall, prior to their 24-hour receptive period, does release chemicals to signal their readiness to bucks.  These chemicals keep the bucks’ testosterone level high, which in turn keeps antlers firmly attached to their heads.  Once rut is over, does stop emitting these chemicals, and as a consequence, the bucks’ testosterone level drops significantly.

When a buck’s testosterone level drops, it triggers cells called osteoclasts to become more active in the buck’s pedicles, the permanent bony bases which anchor the antlers to the buck’s skull. As a result, calcium is extracted from the pedicles which weakens the antlers’ connection to the buck’s skull, and eventually the antlers drop off.

It is rare that both antlers drop at the same time – usually there are four to eight days between the loss of the first and the second antler. I assumed that bucks needed to knock their antlers against something hard, such as the trunk of a tree, in order to get them to fall off.  However, years ago I witnessed a buck shedding an antler simply by dropping his head and then quickly flicking it upwards, sending an antler flying through the air. (Note pedicle where antler used to be attached. Photo by Alfred Balch)

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12 responses

  1. I’m anxiously waiting ours1 none so far.

    January 27, 2020 at 7:54 am

  2. Laurie Spry

    I used to teach a unit about horns and antlers, and I never knew the mechanism for the shed – the triggering of the osteoclasts at the pedicle.
    Thanks so much!

    January 27, 2020 at 8:05 am

  3. Alice

    Interesting sequence of antler shedding events. Buck and Doe working in harmony 😁

    January 27, 2020 at 8:16 am

  4. Eric brown

    Double shedds are not as uncommon as you might think. Twice now I have found a matched pair. The first one they were about 20 feet apart this year I found a matched pair less then 4 feet from each other

    January 27, 2020 at 9:13 am

  5. LG

    I have always wondered how, if antlers are shed each winter–and you related such interesting facts!-how there get to be 3- and 4-point bucks.Maybe another species?

    January 27, 2020 at 9:16 am

    • Hi LG,
      The first year a buck grows antlers, they are single spikes. Then they continue each year to get bigger, with more points. Genetics, age and good nutrition all affect how large and how many points they will eventually have.

      January 27, 2020 at 9:26 am

  6. Betsy stewart

    So the winter is when they lose the antlers one way or another? Do they rub their antlers against trees for other reasons?

    January 27, 2020 at 9:27 am

    • Yes, they lose their antlers in December or January. Prior to rut in the fall bucks remove the blood vessel-filled velvet covering their antlers by rubbing their antlers against trees. They also have scent glands on their forehead and rub it against trees and shrubs in order to leave their scent.

      January 27, 2020 at 11:48 am

      • Betsy stewart

        I knew all that – once upon a time.did you get the picture of the tree in your vtel email account? It looked to me that what was done to the tree was fresh.

        January 27, 2020 at 12:24 pm

  7. kitty leonard

    I believe osteoclasts are cells rather than chemicals. Bone has osteoclasts which break down bone and osteoblasts which build bone. the balance of the actions of the two types makes for healthy bone by continually remodeling the structure. When one predominates in its activity, there is either more build up or more break down. Does the drop in testosterone cause increased osteoclast activity? That would explain the shed of antler at the pedicle

    January 27, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    • You are absolutely correct, Kitty. Thank you so much for pointing that oversight/error out to me. I greatly appreciate it! And yes, the drop in testosterone triggers osteoclast activity, as you stated!

      January 27, 2020 at 4:22 pm

  8. Brian Macdonald

    I have been looking for antlers in the woods near my house, but wasn’t aware of how the bucks shed them. I also thought that perhaps they had to rub against a tree, but thank you for this info. I will have to broaden my search area in hopes of finding an antler.

    January 27, 2020 at 2:36 pm

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