The whitetail deer’s annual cycle of antler growth usually begins in spring when new antlers begin to develop. Antlers begin to grow out of the pedicle, which is attached to the buck’s skull. Growth of new antlers in the spring is a result photoperiod: increasing length of daylight. As the antler grows it is covered in velvet, a highly vascular skin supplying nutrients and oxygen to the developing bone. Growth is relatively slow early in the spring, peaks in June or July, and slows again in late summer. The antler development is normally completed within 100 days. Antlers can grow about a quarter of an inch a day.
Photoperiod and increased levels of testosterone late in summer signal completion of antler growth. Mineralization of the antler occurs and the velvet is shed. Bucks shed their velvet in a relatively short period of time, sometimes within only a few hours.
Late in the year and after the rut, photoperiod and falling levels of testosterone cause the antler to shed. Shedding occurs when a thin layer of tissue called the abscission layer, separates the antler from the pedicle. The shedding process is completed over a short period of time, usually only a few weeks. Antlers sometimes fall off simultaneously; other times one may be attached for weeks after the first one is shed. A protective scab then forms over the pedicle. Antler shedding usually occurs between January and March.
Many hunters, as well as non hunters, enjoy looking for shed antlers in late winter and early spring. I usually start looking in late January and continue through to morel mushroom season in April. Shed hunting can be a great way to spend time with family and friends or to introduce children to outdoor activities. Valuable information can be learned by hunters, including where bedding and feeding areas are, travel routes, rub lines and scrapes, and whether or not a particular buck has made it through hunting season.
Here are some shed hunting tips. If you are familiar with the area you will be shed hunting, start where you know the bucks are. Finding an antler shed can be like looking for a needle in a hay stack; help yourself out by concentrating on core areas you know bucks have been frequenting. Walk slowly and look for just a piece of the antler, like the sharp tine instead of the whole antler. Look for trails and follow them. The major trails will be easy to spot at this time of year.
Trails often lead between bedding and feedings areas, which are also good places to look. Other areas to pay attention to are where deer cross creeks and the fence lines because often the impact from a jump can cause an antler to fall off. Southern facing hillsides are also a good place to check when the weather begins to warm, as deer will often rest there.
Before going out make sure you have permission to shed hunt the ground you will be on and check where property lines are. Also, remember not all state public ground allows shed hunting; be sure to check at the site before picking up any sheds. If you find a skull with antlers attached contact a Conservation Police Officer because they will need to give you the OK before taking the skull. Whether you find any sheds or not, shed hunting can be an opportunity to learn about the deer in your area, as well as a way to spend a great day in the woods!