QUESTION: The deer in our area in central West Virginia still (March 27) have their antlers. Is this normal? Will their new antlers push the current ones off, or will the new antlers be deformed? — Sam W.
ANSWER: Several factors influence when deer shed their antlers. Older bucks tend to shed before younger ones. Bucks that are stressed (from the rut or nutritionally) might also shed sooner. Colder than normal temperatures and/or deeper snow or a sparse mast crop might cause bucks to shed earlier rather than later. Mild temperatures and abundant food MIGHT have just the opposite effect.
There can also be a great deal of geographical variation. Northern deer tending to shed earlier than southern deer. And there is greater variation among southern deer in part due to the variation in peak rut dates. For example, bucks in coastal Georgia rut in early to mid October, while those in southwestern Georgia might not rut until early January. Timing of antler drop can follow a similarly disparate pattern.
And there are exceptions to every rule. In Maine, I’ve observed bucks shed as early as late December, and as late as early March. In Florida, I’ve seen full rack bucks chasing estrous does in early March.
West Virginia deer still sporting hard antler in late March is a little unusual, but certainly not worrisome. If it is just one buck, he might have some sort of injury or malady that affected his antler growth cycle and he/she may retain antlers indefinitely. If you’re seeing multiple antlered bucks, it could be the result of a very good acorn crop, a mild winter or some other unknown factor. Regardless, the bucks will likely eventually shed last year’s antlers and begin growing new ones in a normal manner.