Almost everything in a buck’s behavior is modulated by its hormones. The rise and fall of testosterone is as indicative of the season as the outside weather. At a certain point of the season, a buck’s testosterone drops significantly, resulting in shed antlers. When deer shed their antlers is dependent on their testosterone.
Deer typically shed their antlers between the first week of December and the middle of March, after the rut. The buck is finished breeding, and its testosterone drops. The drop in testosterone results in a buck shedding its antlers.
Dropping testosterone results in a biological response. It kickstarts the production of separate hormones that leech the calcium from the buck’s antlers, specifically the base of the antlers. The base of the antlers is known as the pedicle. During this part of the season, hunters are known for collecting fallen antlers.
Deer Antler Shedding Explained
Why do they shed
There is no physical, outside reason for deer to shed their antlers. It’s simply the side effect of biological factors the deer goes through every year. A buck will grow and shed its antlers every season for the rest of its life.
As the calcium is sucked out of the pedicles, all of the veins in the underlying structure constrict, starving the base of the antlers of both oxygen and blood, the latter of which supplies nutrients to the buck’s antlers.
This is the time of year when you may be lucky enough to witness a buck rubbing its antlers against a variety of trees. It’s also an effective method for tracking deer since they will mark random trees as a part of their reaction to the oxygen and blood-starved antlers.
The process is relatively quick. It can take as long as 72 hours and as few as 24. Once the process starts, the antlers go quickly. However, it’s not a universal occurrence in terms of timing.
That’s why there is such a disparity between the starting period and the ending period—about four months. For instance, older bucks shed their antlers earlier than younger bucks.
Bucks that have seen a few seasons have less testosterone in their system than a young buck, so they have a head start on the process. Latitude and elevation play their roles as well.
Also, if a buck is sick, dealing with some sort of disease, or hasn’t eaten well over the last few weeks, it will shed its antlers earlier than the average buck.
Is it Painful When a Deer Sheds their Antlers
It’s not that painful for a deer to shed its antlers, though it may seem, to the outside observer, that it is. A deer knows that it’s time for the antlers to come off because they spend a lot of time rubbing them against trees.
When they eventually fall off, there is a small amount of blood that scabs over quickly. Thanks to the process of restricting the blood vessels in the pedicle, the blood loss is minor. In short order, the pedicles will scab over and heal until the new horns grow in their place.
As an interesting side note, scientists are intently studying the growth and falling off of antlers because they lose their nerve cells when they are fully grown and regrow those nerve cells when they fall off. Since grown antlers lose their nerve cells, there is no pain in them.
Thanks to those studies, we know that deer don’t suffer through any pain when their antlers fall off, though they may experience some itchiness and a distant sort of pain as they regrow.
As the antlers grow back throughout the summer months, they are coated in a velvet-like membrane that is packed with nutrients and blood. The velvet is essentially a thin layer of skin with thousands of tiny blood vessels.
Beneath the velvet, cartilage grows and converts into bone. Once the antlers are fully grown, bucks will return to rubbing their antlers against the trees. Since the velvet-skin membrane is no longer necessary, it dies and dries up. Bucks shedding velvet is a sight to behold!
Deer rub their antlers against trees to help expedite the falling-off process, ridding their antlers of every square inch of velvet skin. While the velvet and antler growth doesn’t hurt, impacts to the antlers during the velvet stage can hurt very much.
If a buck charges through the forest and the antlers knock against a branch or tree, it’s just like human skin at this point. The velvet will be cut, and they will bleed. Their antlers also hurt in this stage but only as a result of damage, rather than growth.
Do Deer lose their Antlers Every Year
A buck will go through the process of shedding and regrowing its antlers every year they are alive. Since most male deer only average about four and a half years in life, they will go through the process four times, possibly five.
It’s a regular process that rolls around as sure as the seasons change. It may take place sooner or later in the year, depending on the condition and location of the buck. When it does happen, it’s an exciting time of the year for hunters.
Not the act of hunting the deer but the act of searching and collecting antlers. If you’re lucky you will find them where they dropped. If you know of a place where there are a lot of deer moving throughout the year, it’s a good spot to look for deer antlers.
Deer shed their antlers somewhere between December and March of the following year. When they shed their antlers depends on their nutrition, elevation, location, breeding status, and age.
It’s a cycle that starts and ends annually, and male deer (female reindeer) will lose and regain their antlers each year until they die. Fortunately, it’s not a painful process, unless the antlers are damaged during the velvet stage.
Like a broken bone, every time antlers return, they come back bigger and stronger than the ones before. One day, the rack may become big enough to properly mount on your wall.