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Antler sheds: a fascinating find

A natural phenomenon occurring at this time every year is the shedding of antlers by whitetail deer. Adult deer grow a new set annually, beginning in March or April, during which the antlers are covered by a velvet-like skin composed of downy hairs and blood vessels.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the bone-like substance that makes up the polished antler is secreted by cells on the inside of the velvet. By early September, the velvet has been rubbed off and the solid antlers remain through most of the breeding season, lasting into February, when antlers are shed.

The cycle is thought to be influenced by hormonal fluctuations affected by length of daylight and changing temperatures. Rising testosterone levels cause antler blood flow to cease. When the levels peak in November with the height of breeding, the testosterone levels begin to drop, eventually triggering antler shedding.

The process allows for new growth, alleviates stress and excess weight during winter’s harsh conditions and conserves energy for the growing animal.

Copyrighted photo by David B. Soete
Sparring is common among white-tail bucks. After the breeding season in late January, bucks form small groups that remain together through spring and summer. Such groups break up around September when the rut starts, characterized by fighting and breeding activities. (Click for larger version)
Copyrighted photo by David B. Soete
Shed antlers are prized by those who practice shed hunting. Bent or twisted antler tines are usually the result of injuries sustained by growing antlers while still soft. Once hardened, such damage results in broken or chipped antlers. (Click for larger version)
Copyrighted photo by David B. Soete
(Click for larger version)