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Whitetail Deer Antler Growth
 

Whitetail Deer Antler Information

As much as I hate to admit it, whitetail deer huntingís focal point has become the harvest of trophy whitetail bucks, which in turn are determined by deer antlers. Thus I thought it would be interesting to provide information about whitetail deer antlers. Topics that surround how fast deer antlers grow, what elements are essential for trophy deer antler growth, what States provide the basic ingredients needed for antler growth of deer, conservation programs to assist in antler development of whitetail deer, and much more. Let us explore the details of whitetail deer antler growth and information. Your gonna have to love whitetail bucks to read this article as itís information that the novice whitetail hunter may not appreciate.

Deer antler growth normally begins here in the Midwestern United States in March or April. In most cases the typical deer antlers begins growth out of the head in a backward motion, then quickly changes direction and sweeps forward. Whitetail deer tissue growth in antlers in among the fastest growing tissues in the entire animal kingdom. Deer antler tissue has been documented to grow from ľ inch to ĺ inches in a day, or 24 hour period. The deer antler development process can vary greatly depending upon the genetics and nutrition of each deer. Growing antlers are covered with a living tissue called velvet. During deer antler development, the deerís antlers are very delicate and extremely sensitive. This is a time when most antler damage or breakage can occur, despite the common misconception that most deer antler breakage occurs during the fighting stages of the rut or breeding season.

The two circular areas that grow antlers from a buck's skull are known as pedicles. Antler pedicles start developing on the frontal bones of male white-tailed deer fawns during late fetal development. After birth, early stimulation from testosterone is then required for final pedicle development. When bucks reach 4-6 months of age, the antlers begin to grow from the pedicle. Overall, pedicle formation occurs through a process known as intramembranous ossification, whereas antlers grow by endochondral ossification.


Deer antler velvet is shed or rubbed off by the whitetail buck as he rubs saplings or trees with his antlers. Normally the older bucks will shed their velvet before younger bucks will. A buckís first set of antlers begins to grow when itís about 10 months old. Spikes are more common in yearling deer than older ones because antler growth starts at a time when the young buckís body is still growing rapidly. Antler development is tied in closely with the animalís nutritional status as well. Once the antlers reach full size the velvet begins to die off and the bucks rub it off the hard horn on trees and brush. In addition to removing the velvet from their new antlers buck rubs also help to strengthen the neck for the upcoming rut.

Antler composition and physiology
Composition of growing (soft) antlers in velvet (Spring/Summer):
Velvet antlers are High in water and Low in dry matter:
20% dry matter & minerals
80% crude protein
20% ash (22% calcium and 11% phosphorus)
80% organic material (water, etc.)



Composition of hard & polished antlers (Fall/Winter):
Hard antlers are Low in water and High in dry matter:
60% dry matter & minerals
40-45% crude protein
54-60% ash (25-40% calcium and 19% phosphorus)
40% organic material (water, etc.)



Thus so far we see age, nutritional, and genetics all play a key role in whitetail deer antler growth or development. However many more factors determine if your hunt area is advantageous to trophy buck hunting, and just how quickly antler will grow.

Whitetail deer antlers are nothing short of amazing. In fact some sets of antlers taken my hunters have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are two types of antlers are whitetail deer. These two types of whitetail deer antlers are typical and non-typical. These are the two classifications found in most record book clubs across the United States of America. Whitetail deer antlers are not horns nor are they antlers despite the fact we refer to them as such. Antlers are made of dead bone, and are yearly growths that begin growing from two pedicels on the buckís head in late winter and early spring. Antlers reach full growth in late summer usually October. Antlers are normally branched (except for spikes), and maturity, good nutrition, lack of stress and good genes determine antler size and formation.

Generally only the male or whitetail buck of the species will grow antlers, however it is estimated by whitetail biologist that one in every 6000 deer that are female do grow antlers. In 2009 one of my hunters are in Iowa killed 160 inch whitetail deer that was a doe. This may be the largest female set of antlers produced in the nation. The hunters name is John Kasuba. One luck fellow and a good hunter.

Let us begin to take a look at the factors which directly effect deer antler growth.

Nutrition Important to Deer Antler Growth

When of the biggest factors which will affect whether your area is producing trophy racks is nutrition. The bottomline on deer antler growth is that if the area does not hold the nutrition to support the genetics of the species, then that area will simply not grow trophy whitetail deer antlers. Because weíre dealing with tissue the antlers of deer require nutrients. Much like the weightlifter who properly consumes the correct amount of carbohydrates, protein, etc., the weightlifter need nutrition to build his tissue and muscle. So are the needs of the whitetail deer in regard to antler production and the ability to store fat, and build muscle. This is why the Midwestern United States gives birth to the biggest bucks in the world. The Midwestern United States contains the richest dirt in America and grows the most nutritious agricultural crops afforded to the whitetail herd.

Body growth takes precedence over antler growth. Any deficiency in dietary energy, protein, calcium, phosphorus or certain vitamins during spring and summer can have strong negative effects. There are only two possible solutions to poor nutrition. One is to reduce deer numbers to more closely match the capacity of the natural habitat. The other is to improve the habitat by cutting, burning, planting or fertilizing to restore the landís capacity to support healthy deer. This is one reason why shooting doeís is a vital part are producing deer antlers that grow big and fast on your bucks. If it would only stand to reason is there were fewer doeís a more abundant Food Supply would be available to the bucks in your area. The modern day whitetail enthusiast knows in order to have whitetail deer antlers abundantly that part of a quality deer management program is to harvest does.

The organic makeup of antlers during the growing stage is almost entirely protein. Even after mineralization (hardening) is complete, a good portion of protein remains in these antlers. To grow the best set of antlers that his genetics and age will allow, a deer needs food containing at least 16% to 18% "digestible" crude protein. (Not all proteins are digestible to a deer.) The most important factor in growing trophy antlers is to provide the buck with nutrient rich food during the growth period from April through October.

Calcium is another element needed by deer during and after the antler growth period. Although a deer can borrow calcium from bones in other parts of his body and utilize it for antler growth, he still needs foods that contain a minimum of 0.45% calcium.


Phosphorus is also needed for antler growth. Although dietary phosphorus requirements are not completely known, it is believed that the lowest level a deer needs for adequate antler growth and other body functions is 0.30%.


Vitamin D is important in promoting calcium absorption and mineralization of bone. A deer gets all the Vitamin D he needs by absorbing ultraviolet light through its skin and eating vegetation that has been in direct sunlight.


Vitamin A is important to antler development once the bone hardening begins. Carotenes in "green" leaves can be converted to Vitamin A. Green leaves can become scarce during the winter months, but remain an important part of the deer's diet.


Genetics Important to Deer Antler Growth

Genetics is an important factor surrounding whitetail deer antler growth. This is easy to see among human beings, as often times when two very tall people produce a baby the baby will also be tall. Therefore it is vital for an area to hold huge whitetail bucks in possession of high scoring whitetail deer antlers in order to pass on the genetics to the next generation of whitetail deer. The reason genetics plays such a minor factor regarding whitetail deer antler production is because you can take a deer with the greatest of genetics and supply him with poor nutrition, only to see a results which are minimal at best. Normally no matter what the genetics of a given area may be in regard to whitetail deer antlers nutrition will always somehow produce a quality bucks you seek.

Just like people, deer are born with a genetic code that dictates what potential their characteristics have, including antler development. Some bucks are destined to become absolute monsters while most make up the majority of "average" bucks. Nature has a way of perpetuating the species and it is through this "survival of the fittest" that the strongest specimens propagate the next generations. There is very little you can do to affect the gene pool in the area you hunt. You can, however, do a little research into what regions have been producing larger numbers of big bucks and try to hunt there.

A buck's potential for antler development is contained within his genetic material. In other words, his antler potential is determined by the combination of DNA from both his sire and dam. The buck's environment, or quality of his habitat, and his age affect the physical expression of his genetic potential for antler development. Genetic potential for antler development is only a management concern if you are involved in selective harvest of bucks. Selective harvest decisions can be used to manipulate the "genetic composition" or the "standing crop" of a population. Management for "genetic composition" of the population involves altering gene frequencies in a breeding population such that there is an increase in genetic potential to grow larger antlers. Genetic composition can be manipulated only if you can judge the genetic potential of bucks and then increase the reproductive success of the superior animals. These are significant challenges under any management scenario. Our inability to judge a female's genetic potential for antler development is another significant problem. Given the severe limitations to success, manipulation of population-level genetics may not be a viable management option. Management of the "standing crop" of a population can provide both positive and negative effects, depending on the approach to selective harvest. Standing crop can be manipulated to improve antler development of surviving bucks if there is an excess of bucks within a population and you have the luxury of selectively removing "inferior" animals. Removing these animals leaves more forage resources for bucks that have greater potential to grow larger antlers. Standing crop can be managed effectively only if you can evaluate future antler development based on current antler development. A hunter must be able to accurately judge antler development within age classes and then selectively harvest inferior animals. The reverse approach, selective protection of inferior-antlered young bucks and removal of superior-antlered young bucks can negatively impact standing crop antler development. Nutritional factors which affect the initiation of pedicle growth during a buck's first winter and antler growth during subsequent spring and summer will affect the expression of a young buck's genetic potential for antler development.

Age of Deer Important to Deer Antlers Growth

Certainly it is quite obvious that any buck must live long enough to produce quality antlers. The combining factors in any area pertinent to deer antler growth of only apply if the animal lives long enough to produce the head gear. In some regions because of great nutrition I have seen three year old whitetail bucks score over 160 inches. While another regions which have poor nutrition a five year old buck may never reach 120 inches. While age is certainly vital in the production of big deer antlers, I contend that nutrition and hunting regulations are more important than anything in determining whether your area will hold record book whitetail deer. Whitetailed deer do not achieve maturity until they are 5 to 8 years of age. Studies have demonstrated the average buck achieves only about 10 percent of his potential antler development by age 1.5 years (when he completes his first set of antlers as an 18-month-old buck). It has also been able to demonstrate that there is little relationship between the first year antlers and the antler development a buck will have when he reaches the mature age classes of 5 years or older. This means a spike-antlered buck has a good chance of becoming a trophy-quality adult buck. By the time a buck has completed his second set of antlers he still only has achieved only 25-35 percent of his potential antler development.


At 3 years of age (few bucks live longer than this in Pennsylvania because of the amount of hunters that hunt in this state). A buck still only has achieved about 50 percent of his potential antler quality. It is not until 5 years of age that most bucks approach their full antler potential, and often, antlers donít reach their maximum size until 7 or 8 years of age (for captive deer raised under ideal conditions). Probably less than 1 out of 2,000 bucks live to become over the age of 6.


Hunting Regulations are Important to Deer Antler Growth


When of the greatest factors in determining whether your area will produce quality whitetail bucks are the laws that your Department of Natural Resources employs upon your whitetail deer population, and how the hunters in your State harvest the herd. While it is true that the state of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas continue to produce the biggest bucks in the world is also true these conservation departments have employed rules which assist the whitetail herd and lengthen the deerís life span. In Iowa and Illinois hunters may only pursue whitetail deer with a shotgun or muzzleloader during firearm season. The results are that deer are more difficult retail because these types of firearms donít shoot as far thus giving the deer a distinct advantage. Also within the state of Iowa a very stringent lottery program is employed for archery tags. While its easy to get a gun tag, it takes up to 3 years to get a bowtag sometimes. A program such as this also increases the lifespan of the whitetail buck. The results are larger whitetail deer antlers that grow faster. The State of Kansas has always been a state are was nearly impossible to get a tag, however beginning in 2009 getting a deer tag is very easy and almost guaranteed. Thus some of the biggest bucks in the world await those who will hunt in Eastern Kansas in unit 11 with an outfitter such as IMB outfitters. The state of Missouri has imposed an antler restriction for the past five years in its northern counties. In the northern counties of Missouri the law dictates that if a hunter harvests a whitetail buck that the animal must have four points on one side. Since the implementation of this law I have watched the Northern portion of the State of Missouri begin to produce the biggest bucks in the Midwest, with the exception of Iowa. Oh yes the laws of your Department of Conservation have everything in the world to do with whitetail deer antler growth.

After being a whitetail deer outfitter in the Midwest for 13 years I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a hunter on the other end of the phone talk about how in the state where he lives, ďIf itís brown its down.Ē This is a phrase that means the general population of hunters within a given area you see quality whitetail deer antlers shoot any deer that comes by rather than wait for a mature deer in order to properly maintain the herd in an effort to catapult the deer antler growth in years to come. While deer hunting has not always been and will never be about being antlers for me, it simply doesnít make any sense to shoot a buck youíre not going to mount or that is not mature unless your starving to death and need food for your family. Take a doe and employ a Quality Deer Management Program.



Injury and Disease.


Injury to a whitetail buckís antler while they are still in the velvet will often result in antlers with odd points, double main beams, or other abnormal traits. Generally, deer antler injuries of this type do not result in antler abnormalities the second and following years unless they occur near the base of the growing antler or to the skull. If the injury is near the base of the antler, the injury can result in abnormal development in subsequent years as well as the present year. Injury to other parts of the skeleton can also result in abnormal antler growth during subsequent years. It is well documented that skeletal injury to a hind leg will result in the opposite side antler being deformed in the next and in subsequent antler growth periods.

Disease can cause antler growth to be abnormal. Disease can also permanently restrict potential antler development. Given proper nutrition, age and no injuries or debilitating diseases, it is genetics that determine the final development of a buckís antlers! Two deer can be raised together to 7 years of age under excellent nutrition and conditions. One may become a Boone and Crockett deer while the other may only develop into a mediocre 6 or 8 point deer. In this case, the genetic makeup Mother Nature gave them would determine the antler development.



Darrin Bradley

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