|Did You Know...?
- Male Deer and Elk shed their antlers annually as a prelude
to the regeneration, or re-growth, of new ones.
- Antlers in the velvet can grow up to 1" in one day.
- Velvet is the only regenerating skin found in mammals.
- Elk antler velvet has been used in the Orient for medicinal
purposes for thousands of years.
- A healthy bull elk can produce up to 10 pounds of velvet a
- During early stages of growth, the antlers are very
sensitive and can be susceptible to injury and cause for abnormal antler growth.
- Younger deer and elk are usually the last ones to shed their
Why do deer shed their antlers?
Male deer grow and shed their antlers
every year. Antlers are composed of true bone. Antler growth begins in late March or early
April and the growing bone is covered by skin with numerous blood vessels (velvet). In
late summer and early fall, testosterone levels increase. This hormone elevation results
in the antlers hardening and the buck rubs off the drying velvet. When testosterone levels
begin to drop, antlers start to shed beginning in mid January. Deer that are in the best
physical condition will lose their antlers later in the winter.
The entire shedding process takes a mere two to three weeks
to complete, and the re-growth phase takes place over the summer. The docile male deer
that, with the exception of the male and the female reindeer, solely sports antlers, sheds
them between January and April, after the autumn mating season draws to a close. He can do
without antlers at this time, because his need for them in prior months, to attract and to
impress females for his harem of mates, and to fight with his competitors for the females'
affections, no longer exists.
Mule deer usually shed their antlers in January and
February, and most elk shed their antlers in February and March, however animals of both
species sometimes retain their antlers into April. Questions about antler sheds are
usually asked by people wanting to try their hand at finding antlers. In that regard,
prospective antler hunters are asked to keep their distance from wintering animals to
minimize stress and disturbance on winter ranges. There have also been problems associated
with antler seekers trespassing on private lands. As with any other activity, permission
must be obtained to use private lands.
The antlers themselves differ from the hollow horns of
cattle, in that they comprise solid bone tissue with a honey combed structure. Pedicles,
or knobby, skin-covered nubs protruding from the skull, support the deer's antlers, or
points, which range in number from one shaft to eleven branches. The pedicles are a
permanent fixture on the deer's forehead, and are the point from which the antlers
annually break off.
During the first year the pedicles appear on the young deer's forehead. The following
year, the youngster sprouts straight, spike-like shafts, and in the third year, the first
branch appears. In successive years, as the deer matures, his antlers lengthen and, in
most species, he acquires additional branches.
During the growth phase of the bony antlers, they are
covered with a sensitive skin referred to as "velvet," which is filled with
blood vessels that feed the antlers the vitamins and the minerals necessary to build up
the bone, and to promote normal antler growth. Antler growth spans two to four months,
after which time the velvet is no longer needed, and a ring, which effectively serves as a
shutoff valve, forms at the base of the antlers and cuts off the blood supply to the
velvet. As a result, the velvet withers, dries up, and falls off, often assisted by the
deer, which rubs his antlers against tree bark. The antler regeneration is complete, and
the shedding cycle will resume once mating season in the fall concludes.