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Whitetail World : Whitetail Deer Antlers
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Whitetail Deer Antlers

Antlers are live tissue, composed of bone and are used for fighting, establishing dominance over younger weaker bucks and for postering to attract does during the rut.  Antlers are often mistaken as horns.  Horns are permanent, where as antlers are bone which falls off annually and is replaced the following year.  Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom. Bucks usually start their antler growth in March or April and may grow as much as one inch of new antler per day throughout the growing period, which typically ends in the August through September time period. Antler size is determined by genetics, age, and nutrition. During growth the antlers are covered in soft hairy covering called velvet, which contains a network of blood vessels, cartilage and nerve endings.  Decreasing day length (photoperiod) in the late summer triggers many physical changes in the buck, most noticably an increase in testostrone production, which starts getting the buck ready for the up coming rut.  This increase in testostrone starts the antler hardening process by terminating the blood supply to the antlers and velvet.  Antlers start to harden through a process called calcification and the velvet dies and starts to peel off.  Bucks will use trees and shrubs to rub their antlers. This act removes the remaining velvet, polishes their new head gear and strengthens their neck muscles in preperation to be ready to fight with other bucks in their quest for dominance and breeding rights with the does.

In most areas the single largest limiting factor to trophy antler potential is age.  Most bucks seldom make it past 2 1/2 years of age, where under normal conditions, they are only at about 35% of their overall potential, in regards to rack size.  Bucks need to make it to at least 5 1/2 years of age to reach their peak antler growing capability.  Some bucks continue to get larger racks up until they've reached the ripe old age of 8 1/2.  Then typically their rack size will start to dimish, usually with shorter tine length.  Up until a buck reaches 5 1/2 years old his body is still growing and his body naturaly routes nutrients away from strictly growing antlers.  Once the buck matures, more and more nutrients can be routed for antler developement and is not needed for body growth.      

Pedicle -  circular areas located on the forehead region of bucks from which antler growth starts.

Bur - a rough ring that grows directly on top of the pedicle and is the start of the antler main beam

Main Beam - is the main bone from which most all other tines grow.  It starts out from the pedicle and bur, usually pointing slightly rearward then quickly sweeps forward towards the buck's nose.

Tines - Are points growing off of main beam, usually from the top.  However, tines can grown out in any direction from the main beam or even off of other tines. 

Typical antler configuration - refers to all points/tines coming off the top of the main beam in seperate locations.  Typical racks are usually found to have 4, 5 or 6 points per side.  It is possible for there to be more, however racks of that make up are far and few between.

Non-typical antler configuration - refers to antlers that have tines/points coming from multiple locations or tines/points that shoot off in several directions.  Tines may be split or come from the bottom of the main beam (drop tine) for example. There is no limit to how unusual these configurations can become.  Antlers may become non-typical by two means, genetics or injury.  An injury to an antler while it is still in velvet may produce a non-typical point. Sometimes even an injury to the buck's body the previous year may manifest itself in a buck producing a non-typical antler the following year.  If a buck is injured on either his left or right side of his body, there is a good chance that the next set of antlers he grows will be non-typical on the opposite side.   

Mass - refers to the girth/circumference of the main beam. Usually as the buck gets older, his antlers mass will get larger.  If genetics, nutrition and age allow some bucks have grown to have antlers with the mass of pop cans.