They are the sparkle in a hunter’s eye, possible the only reason he or she hunts. The topic of conversation at every gathering. They grace the cover of nearly every fall issue outdoor magazines, and they are the focus of banquets, camp fires and contests.
They are what success is measured by, the basis for bragging, and the status of prowess. Sadly perhaps, they are what attract the interest of distant hunters, provide the prize for contests, and fill the pages of published record books.
And if nothing else, they are truly the only thing that really matters when it comes to justifying the oft-used statement, ‘size matters.’
Of course we are talking about deer antlers, the most highly prized bone in the woods. Indeed, antlers adorn, via decals, the windows and bumpers of pickup trucks, embroidered jacket labels, and the walls of cabins and homes from sea to shining sea.
Antlers are in focus on every deer hunting TV show, fondled by their captors, and the very reason viewers watch.
Antlers are the most prized bone in the woods, without equal.
Our fascination with antlers is historic and no less today than when man began to walk upright, grunt about his success, and etch the image of his trophy on the wall of his cave. Most wives of 21st century hunters might be so bold as to declare that much has gone unchanged.
They are what trophies are ranked by, what honors are earned by, and what rich guys are willing and anxious to pay for.
So really, what are they?
Deer grow antlers each and every year. In year one, buck deer sprout nubs, simple and hardly detectable promises of what is to come. Year two awards bucks with a couple points, or tines.
Each year antlers increase in size and at some point in late winter the things fall off. But just weeks later, the buck starts a new set of antlers that given good nutrition, good genetics, and good luck, can eventually grow to impressive sizes.
For the most part, each buck’s antlers are in some way different from every other buck’s head set.
Typical antlers are just that, a closely matched set of upward tines. A non-typical rack might sport a tine that drops down, an unmatched pair of antlers, or something as odd as three antlers.
The longer days of late winter, or the coming of spring, trigger the regrowth of new antlers. New antlers are covered in blood rich ‘velvet’ and seem almost to increase in size daily. Inside the sheath of velvet the growing antlers are high in protein and relatively low in calcium and phosphorous. As the growth of antlers slows in late summer the makeup ratio reverses and the antler harden.
During the growth months of spring and summer, antlers are soft and are subject to damage or injury. Even a deep scratch to the velvet can alter the finished product.
As the days begin shorten in late summer, testosterone levels begin to increase, antlers start to harden, and blood flow to the growing antlers and velvet ceases. Bucks then rub the velvet off on trees and bushes.
It’s a fascinating process and so is the transfer of biological happenings as trophy hunters begin to drool at the same time.