All male deer grow antlers. Hunters love spotting a deer with a massive rack of antlers, but many people don't know much about what antlers consist of or how they grow.
In this article, you will learn six amazing facts about deer antlers like the rate of growth, composition, use, size, shedding, and how to count antler points.
Fact #1: Deer antlers are some of the fastest-growing structures in nature
Deer antlers can grow up to an inch a day, making their tissue among the fastest growing on the planet. Antlers start growing in springtime and continue gaining size through late summer. By fall, antlers are full grown and begin to harden.
The growth of deer antlers is dependent upon several factors, but minerals and protein supplements in the spring and summer can sometimes increase antler growth, as this is peak antler growing season.
Fact #2: Antlers are made of bone.
Many people assume deer antlers are of a keratin material similar to animal horns, but deer antlers consist of bone that grows in an open honeycomb style.
Antlers start off soft and have a velvet-like fuzzy covering that provides the blood supply to the growing bone. Once the bone is fully grown and starts to harden, the velvet cover dries up and sheds, with the deer rubbing its antlers against trees to help in the removal process. By late winter, a buck casts off their antlers in response to lower testosterone levels. A deer will lose their antlers every year and regrow the bone in the next season. Injuries to a deer's antlers during the velvet stage will result in permanent deformations to the antlers that are known as "sticker" or "kicker" points.
Fact #3: Deer antlers are for more than protection.
Most biologists believe that antler growth does more than protect deer from predators. Deer also use their antlers to compete with other males for mating rights with females and also to show dominance in areas where food sources are available.
Deer scrape their antlers against trees as another sign of area dominance and use them to knock fruit from trees. Deer also like to use their antlers to dig depressions in the ground so they can roll around in the dirt or mud to cool down, repel insects, or to relax.
Fact #4: Antler Size is never the same.
Antler size will never be the same year over year. Male health, age, and diet are all determinants in each year's antler growth. Bucks between the ages of four and seven years will display a prime antler size when all other conditions are right. Growing a large antler rack can only happen with a large, strong, and healthy male.
A large set of antlers is a status symbol and a signal to females that this is the male with whom they should mate. Some bucks go so far as to carry brush or vegetation in their antlers to make them appear larger than they are to attract females.
Deer shrink in overall body and antler size as they live nearer to the equator, with deer in southern states smaller than deer in northern territories. As deer age, their antlers become bigger. A young deer will grow its first pair of antlers at around ten months of age but will grow a small rack since most of the deer's energy and resources will go toward body growth.
Some seasons a deer gets an abundance of food and minerals and can grow a healthy-size rack. Pair favorable conditions with a deer of considerable age, and they can develop an impressive set of antlers with many points.
Fact #5: After the rut, a deer sheds their antler velvet
A deer could lose an antler during a fight with another male, or they could lose their antlers early due to inferior nutrition or health. But, most deer will shed their antlers naturally each year after rutting season.
Shedding antler velvet is not painful for the deer. The shedding process starts with a drop in testosterone levels that will cause weakness at the pedicle, which is the point where antlers grow from the skull.
Once this process begins, the actual shedding of the antlers can occur in as short as 48 hours or can take a couple of weeks.
The remaining pedicle nubs often suffer from a bit of damage and will have to heal before a new set of antlers start to grow. Depending on location, a deer will shed their antlers between January and March. The further north a deer lives, the earlier they will drop their antlers. Nature lovers can find these shed deer racks laying in the woods. Animals will chew on antlers for the calcium and other minerals found within the bones.
Fact #6: Deer Antler Points
Hunters love to talk about how many points a buck has, but how do you determine point size on a set of antlers? Some may call a buck with four tines on each side a four-point buck, while others may call it an eight-point buck. The official manner to determine point size is by counting symmetrical tines in total.
For example, a 12-point buck will have six tines, or points, that nearly match in the pattern on each side of the antler rack. A point is an individual tine on an antler and will include the tines on the brow, which are the first points that stick up near the base of the antler.
A "point" must protrude at least one inch from the main stalk of the antler to count. There is a long and complicated process to score a set of antlers, with the Boone and Crockett system being the basis of most scoring processes.