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Antler Growth and Formations

Photo by Tommy Kirkland
Quality nutrition on a consistent basis is one of the keys for a buck's headgear to reach its full potential. Constant access to food plots is vital for deer, especially when other foods such as acorns are scarce. Clover is one of the most efficient forages for a food plot because it is drought resistant and highly nutritious.
Text & Photos by Tommy Kirkland

-- As the days become longer, the process of "photoperiod" takes hold - stimulating hormonal growth in bucks. This transition of more available sunlight allows changes to unfold within a buck's pituitary gland - producing hormones that significantly contribute to bone and tissue growth. Yet other natural works play into antler development.
 
Photo by Tommy Kirkland
This 41/2- to 51/2-year-old buck has reached its best years for antler development. Not only does nutrition influence antler development, but also a buck's genes are a factor that contributes to the condition of its antlers.
A buck's genetic status and age are major components in determining the shape and size of antlers. Studies from numerous biologists have determined that genetics controls the rack's shape and age dictates to what degree the rack towers and spreads. Typically, at 41/2 years, a buck reaches its mature antler size. 
 
During the summer, the racks are heavy and begin to fill out with blood-filled velvet growth, yet the antlers are somewhat out of proportion to their bodies. Wildlife biologists believe nutrients, like calcium, are being robbed from a buck's bone structure. It's not until antler growth stops that bucks begin to build body weight.

As the days become hotter, bucks often retreat to secluded and protected bedding sites. Here they conserve energy which allows nutrition to feed their velvet antlers. The covering is soft and literally feels like velvet. Being pliable, it can take on a whole new appearance, particularly if the buck damages a portion of its antlers. For example, if a growing tine hits a tree limb and doesn't break off that portion of the antler can become deformed and grow downward. This downward growth is what causes a drop tine to form.

Photo by Tommy Kirkland
This free-roaming whitetail is from 61/2 to possibly 71/2 years in age. Notice that its antler mass is not as thick. This buck also exhibited conservative rutting behaviors, which allowed it to avoid injuries, maintain health and evade the stress of predators.
According to scientific studies, if nutrition intake is adequate to good, most bucks can grow antlers fairly quickly - sometimes as much as a half to one inch in a day. Beginning in the early spring, antlers sprout and rapidly start to mature. By late July and August, a full-grown velvet rack is displayed.
 
However, antler development can be hindered not only by inadequate nutritional quality, but also by stress. Bucks that are pursued by predators like wild dogs or coyotes may experience slower antler growth. This is due to the fact that some of their nutritional reserve is being used for physical exertion rather than velvet tissue development.

Photo by Tommy Kirkland
Bucks can develop drop tines particularly if there is damage to the antlers when in velvet. In other cases, antler oddities can be attributed to heredity or injury from a rival. It is also believed that a lack of minerals contributes to non-typical antler growth.
Antler growth is also influenced by age. The older a buck becomes, the more difficult it is for it to properly digest nutrients. Also, the levels of testosterone and other hormones go down as bucks age, which results in poor antler development. Plus, these bucks may carry nutrition-robbing parasites like tapeworms. 
 
A buck's antlers might never reach its full potential due to genetic problems. No matter how much nutrition the animal has access to; its rack will only grow so large. If bucks are able to obtain adequate nutrition and avoid stress, their racks can reach full maturity and if nothing injures the soft pliable tissue then a buck with normal genes can grow, after reaching 3 to 4 years of age, nearly exact formed sets of antlers from year to year.
 
Bucks use their racks for displaying dominance. When antlers are used in conjunction with scent glands, the stage is set for an assortment of deer rut communications which will be the next installment here at Buckmasters.com.

-- Tommy Kirkland

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