QUESTION: A friend killed a buck last year that was still in velvet, and I suggested that he try to peel the velvet off himself. He was worried that doing so would mess up the rack. If a deer is harvested while still in velvet, would removing the velvet damage the rack? I figured that when the buck was harvested and the blood supply to the rack is cut off, the rack itself should harden. Can you shed some light on this for me? — Marcus
ANSWER: The answer depends on several things, including when the deer was killed and what you mean by “messing up” the rack. If the deer was taken in the early fall, just prior to when deer in the area normally shed their velvet, the rack should be essentially “fully-grown.” You should be able to peel away all the velvet without causing any physical harm to the hardened bone beneath.
For corroborating evidence, you need only look to any caribou camp in northern Quebec or Labrador. Most of the bulls killed are still in velvet, and it is common practice to peel the racks and then soak them in a lake or pond.
This gets to the second part of your question. If the velvet is still alive — meaning it is still carrying blood through its circulatory system — the rack can get blood-stained when you peel it. However, this can be remedied the same way as with caribou, by soaking the rack in water immediately after peeling.
There are a few situations where you may not want to peel the rack. One is if you want to have the deer mounted in velvet. In that case, handle the antlers as little as possible. Remove them and the skull plate intact (as one piece) and bring them to your local taxidermist as soon as possible. If you can’t bring them right away, put them in the freezer until you can.
The other situation where you may not want to peel the antlers is if the deer has some sort of injury or physiological aberration. Oddities like antlered does or bucks with damaged, missing or underdeveloped testes may not shed their velvet like normal deer. Peeling velvet might or might not damage the rack underneath. Even if it doesn’t, the antlers could be odd-looking and far less attractive than if they were preserved in velvet.