It is a time of transition in the south Texas outdoors. White-tailed deer are beginning to shed their velvet revealing newly hardened antlers. Richard Moore has the fascinating story of annual antler renewal.
Since the dawn of man, hunters have been captivated by antlers and the creatures that possess them. Prehistoric cave paintings depict antlered animals, often with hunters in pursuit, and the ancient gods of the Greeks and Romans were often adorned with antlers or horns.
Horns and antlers are distinctly different, as horns remain with the animal for life while antlers are shed annually. Horns, found on many bovine species such as cows and bison, are two part structures with an interior base of bone covered by an exterior growth of specialized follicles similar to the materials found in fingernails.
Antlers, which male White-tailed deer possess, are grown annually as extensions of the animal’s skull. They are true bone and a single structure.
After shedding their antlers each spring, they begin growing new ones. Antler growth in the deer family is perhaps the fastest growing tissue in any mammal, and at peak growth the blood swollen antlers look particularly impressive.
As fall approaches, decreasing daylight triggers hormonal changes, which restricts blood flow to the new antlers. The restricted blood flow becomes readily apparent as the velvet like covering dries and the antlers appear to be tightly “shrink-wrapped.”
It is a time of transition in South Texas, as the bucks are beginning to shed their velvet, and you can see small amounts of blood as the velvet begins to tear revealing the newly hardened antlers.
Bucks will hasten the velvet shedding process by raking their antlers in mesquite branches or any available brush, occasionally departing with a broken branch wedged in their rack.
Every antler is different, as each is a specially designed work of nature. Their intriguing growth cycle and unique attributes create a fascinating aura of antler allure.