How shooter bucks grow their antlers

The growth cycle of Whitetail bucks 

By Joel Herrling | PUBLISHED August 1st, 2022 

Being relatively new to the Okayest Hunter lifestyle, I have been binging previous blogs. One described other uses of antlers. Intriguing as it was, I wanted to know more about the process of how they’re formed. Undoubtedly, most know the difference between them and horns however horns aren’t shed, constructed of bone and keratin. Antlers are shed annually, crafted of bone and a velvet like material.

The slogan is abundant during hunting season. Hell, just hop on any social media platform and you’ll find it’s generally the first words typed. Usually by a hunter hoping to avoid shaming, despite their bravery putting up a photo of the buck they were fortunate to harvest. It’s the infamous saying that everyone loves:

You can’t eat the horns!

At the end and with any luck you’re still awake and I haven’t droned on like a boring high school science teacher. Hopefully, you have gained an appreciation for what whitetails undergo in growing their stunning “horns.” Incredibly, antlers are one of the fastest growing bone materials known to humans. Think about it, from March through August, a mature whitetail can exceed 200 inches of bone. After combing through material from the late Charles Alsheimer, the Mississippi State University Deer Ecology & Management Lab, and other scientific papers, the act is quite impressive. 

After breeding season, de-mineralization of the bone happens where the antler meets the pedicle (base). This weakening along with the weight of the antler causes them to drop, leading to the ultimate prize in shed hunting. The pedicle bleeds and develops a scab-like covering which is known as a “wound epithelium” within two to three weeks. Antler growth starts shortly after this process however with moose it takes about two to three months once their antlers drop. 

Growth is minimal through April from decreased daylight compared to that of June. In addition, most whitetails are still stressed from the harsh winter conditions they endured, especially in the northern part of the country. Keeping them in a recovery mode but this improves as the spring green-up enhances the food quality. By the first of May mature bucks should be displaying brow tines along with one to two inches of growth.

May ignites the growth cycle for bucks with the plethora of food along with recently planted agricultural crops. Food sources loaded with protein and other nutrients amp up body condition which sets the stage for rapid progression. It’s at this point where antler beams should be about half of what their length will be when fully developed.

June brings an ample amount of sunlight, increasing hormonal support and accelerating development. Proper rainfall is important during the summer to lead to an abundance of food.  By month end, almost all primary points on the rack are visible. Most have achieved their complete beams and tines by the end of the July, leading to the start of the hardening process. With growth achieved, blood to the antlers is reduced in mid-August. Over the next couple of weeks, they start to harden underneath the velvet. This leads to the appearance of decreased overall size. With the autumn equinox, the velvet dies and once dried, it’s removed within 24-48 hours as bucks thrash on vegetation.

Each set of antlers are unique and no two are identical. Genetics, health, age, and other factors can affect the rate of growth.  It’s nothing more than the extension of a buck’s body condition which if not maintained then maximum growth is unattainable. Finally with the transformation finished, until the process starts over. 

This is the final version that we become obsessed with for the next few months as we perseverate on how we're going to hunt that Shooter Buck

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