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antler shed lying on forest floor

Deer Antlers | The Growth And Shedding Process

Have you ever been walking through the woods and found the antler of a deer? It’s like finding hidden treasure.

But, how did it get there?

Every year, whitetail deer, mule deer, elk and various other hoofed mammals shed their antlers.

The dropping of the antlers may take place within 24 to 48 hours, but the entire shedding process may take as long as two to three weeks before the antlers actually fall off. Then, throughout the summer, new antlers will regenerate.

The shedding and regrowth of a deer’s antlers is an amazing process.

Read on and let’s take a deeper look into deer antlers, how they are used, and the shedding process in general…

two bucks fighting with antlers in snow
During the rut, bucks will fight using their antlers, in an effort to establish dominance and the right to breed the does.

What are those antlers used for anyway?

Male deer, or “bucks,” use their antlers as a weapon, whether to compete for a mate, or to defend themselves. They also use their antlers to display their physiological fitness and to show off their fertility and strength.

Bucks will violently clash their sets of antlers during the breeding season, or “the rut,” to display their strength and dominance. This can sometimes lead to broken antlers, bloody deer, and sometimes even death.

Because of the competitiveness that takes place during this time, bucks with the largest set of antlers (referred to as a “rack) often position themselves to be in the right place at the right time, as a female deer (doe) comes into estrous and becomes ready to be bred.

Now let’s take a look at the the specifics of the growth of this part of a deer’s anatomy.

Antler growth

A whitetail buck’s antlers during the growth phase are covered in velvet, growing up to 2 cm per day, making them the fastest growing tissue of any mammal on earth!

Increasing levels of testosterone, in addition to decreasing daylight hours, are among the major factors contributing to antler growth during the summer months.

Considered as the most extravagant display of a male deer’s sexual traits, these antlers grow much faster than any other bones among mammals.

A deer’s antlers grow from an attachment section on its skull known as a pedicle. Antler growth starts at the tip and initially forms as a cartilage, which is later replaced by a bone-like tissue that is similar to a honeycomb.

During the growth period, the pedicle is covered with a highly vascular skin, called “velvet,” that supplies nutrients and oxygen to the developing bones.

During summer, deer antlers grow rapidly within two to four months and – according to Peter Yang, PhD, associate professor of orthopedics at Stanford University School of Medicine, they can grow up to 2 cm per day. During this process, the antlers eventually mineralize and harden.

But then, once peak levels of testosterone are reached, a deceleration of the growth rate of a buck’s antlers occurs.

During this period of peaking testosterone, the veins and arteries surrounding the velvet cut blood flow and supply of nutrients to the antlers. Because of lack of blood and nutrients, the velvet that encases the antlers wastes away and falls off when the deer rub their antlers on trees. This is often referred to as the shedding of velvet.

Because of their rapid growth rate, antlers may be a disadvantage because there is an enormous need for good nutrition in order for a buck to regrow them every year. But, this can also signify a buck’s metabolic efficiency and superior food gathering capability.

So, now you know how they grow, but why do deer antlers eventually fall off?

WHY do deer shed their antlers?

So, we’ve explored how the antlers grow, but why do deer shed them later on?

In exactly the opposite way that bucks grow their antlers, the shedding of those same antlers among bucks is triggered by decreasing testosterone following the rut, as well as increasing minutes of daylight.

In the wild, injuries and nutrition also play a huge part in the antler shedding process. For example, a healthier buck loses its antlers at a much later period compared to a weaker deer.

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pre and post deer velvet comparison
This is the same buck before and after shedding its velvet. Left photo: Late July. Right photo: late August.

The pedicle, or mounting point, where these antlers are attached and grow from, is also the location where the antlers break off.

Just as rising testosterone levels triggered antler growth at the pedicle, a drop in testosterone levels will cause the pedicle to weaken and eventually, the antlers will fall off.

WHEN do deer shed their antlers?

The particular time a buck will discard its antlers may be largely determined by its individual shedding cycle. This is separate from other bucks’ antler cycles and is possibly centered on its birth date.

In Mississippi, a study conducted among individual penned bucks found that they shed their racks about the same week every year. Other research studies on captive deer discovered that bucks often shed both horns three days apart of each other.

Most bucks will retain their antlers through the winter and into the early Spring and then start shedding their racks anywhere between January and April. Some bucks may shed their antlers earlier or later depending on the maturity of the deer, its physical condition, and the habitat where they live.

Photoperiodism is the physiological response of different organisms to the length of night or day. This happens both in plants and animals. Among bucks, photoperiods occur alongside the testosterone to grow the antlers and define when they will fall off.

Testosterone levels increase during the development and the ensuing shedding of the antler velvet. As the seasons start to change, the biological reaction of antler shedding is activated.

buck shedding velvet over mineral block
When testosterone levels peak, the mineralized antlers have hardened and bucks shed their velvet that had covered the antlers.

Genes also help define early or late growth and shedding of antlers, mainly due to family history which may have an influence on the overall health of the deer.

In general, a deer will lose its antlers during the same time period each year, except for other factors such as health conditions or injuries.

Emotional factors can also play a part in the deer antler shedding process. Just like humans, deer experience social anxiety which may have a negative impact on their health condition and lead to earlier shedding.

Other factors such as weather, altitude, and food availability may also influence when antler shedding takes place.

Some scientists believe that the shedding process is necessary in order for bucks to replace broken or damaged antlers. If a deer has to live with a broken beam or cracked tines his entire life, he will not have the necessary tool to fight off rivals or have the stance to attract does. New racks can grow anywhere from ten to thirty inches bigger every year and this allows bucks to also keep up with their increasing girth and weight as they mature.

How long does it take a deer to shed its antlers?

The duration of the shedding process all depends on how fast a buck decreases its testosterone levels. In most cases, this may happen in less than two to three days.

buck standing in snow with one antler
Individual bucks will typically shed their antlers at the same general time each year.

Although the antlers may appear solidly fixed, they may start to loosen up rapidly as the mating season progresses and natural physiological cycles happen.

After a while, an abrupt jerking actions or a sudden scare from nearby predator can cause enough force to cause the antlers to fall off. The muscle is no longer tough enough to support the weight of the rack, and as a result, the antlers simply fall off.

Early Shedding

As the connecting tissue withers and shrinks, the antlers become loose and fall off. In areas with an early mating season, testosterone levels of bucks will decrease earlier, causing some bucks to cast their antlers off at an earlier time than usual. A harsh winter with a tons of snow can also cause stressed deer to shed racks earlier.

Compared to younger bucks, many older bucks shed antlers earlier. After the mating season, the decreased levels of testosterone cause the formation of an abscission layer between the pedicles and antlers.

Late Shedding

In general, bucks in peak physical condition will hang on to their racks much longer than weaker bucks. Their prime health allows them to have stronger tissue and maintain a better physical condition causing a higher than normal antler to head stability.

Late shedding may also be caused by several other factors. Changing deer populations in a specific location may play a large part in later shedding. Low population indicates antler shedding may not reach its peak until late March or April.

First year bucks that reach the right rearing weight during their first winter will experience the estrous cycle, the recurring biological changes that are produced by reproductive hormones. This will keep the testosterone level of a deer higher for a longer period of time, which may lengthen the amount of time a buck will keep its antlers.

Other Facts About Antler Shedding

Individual deer also have unique shedding patterns. It is also worth knowing that some equatorial deer never shed their antlers regardless of the condition.

In the past, people believed that deer look for a more secluded area to shed their antlers, away from does and rival bucks to avoid public display of their loss of virility.

But, researchers debunk that idea saying that bucks are probably oblivious of when and where they will lose their antlers, although some may follow a regular pattern depending on the conditions.

Some deer will drop both antlers, if undisturbed, almost on top of each other each year. However, some bucks will drop their racks anywhere from a hundred to four hundred yards apart from each other.

In Conclusion

The process of deer antler growth as well as the shedding process is truly an amazing occurrence. So, next time you come across a deer antler in the woods, remember, it went through a lot just to be there!

afflictor broadheads

Afflictor Broadheads Review (Hybrids)

I had been wanting to test the Afflictor Hybrid broadhead for a while. So, when I finally got my hands on some I was excited to test them out.

Afflictor Hybrid Construction

I have used tested and used other hybrid broadheads on the market, but the Afflictor heads are different than other designs. They have a main cutting tip that’s about 1/8-inch thick, made of 420 stainless steel that is extremely thick and sharp and will not fold over.

They also have a feature they call a “drive key,” that also functions as a bleeder blade that opens up the main blades, but also cuts extra tissue.

Afflictor 1-3/4″ Hybrid vs Afflictor Ultraviolet | The differences

On the 1¾-inch Afflictor Hybrid, the drive key has little prongs on it. They are designed in such a way that if they hit hard bone, they will shear off by design, so that the head can continue to penetrate. In fact, everything about this head is designed for penetration.

Afflictor also offers a head called the Ultraviolet, that is purple in color. At the time of this publication, it is the only purple broadhead on the market.

The Ultraviolet has a little bit different design. The main tip of the Ultraviolet is longer and more swept than the original Afflictor Hybrid. Due to that design, it has a little bit better penetration.

Another difference is that the Ultraviolet has non-shearing drive key that functions as a bleeder blade. So it’s a half-inch wide and will open up the blades and continue to cut tissue.

afflictor ultraviolet vs nap killzone penetration
Penetration test using Afflictor Ultraviolet, Afflictor 1-3/4″ Hybrid and NAP Killzone.

With the Ultraviolet broadhead, you get a 1¾-inch cut and plus the ½-inch bleeder, for a total of a 2-inch cut.

Afflictor also makes a 1½-inch  model of this as well and it also has the ½-inch bleeder, for a total cut of 2 inches.

Both versions of this broadhead fly extremely well. They are both 5/8-inch thick in profile, which is like most other mechanical heads on the market. The specs and construction are top-notch.  They also spin very well in flight.

On impact, the drive key comes down and the blades open. There is also a pretty strong o-ring that keeps the blades from rattling during flight.

The NAP Killzone is my standard for comparison testing, as it’s been around for many years. It’s a really reliable and super strong head. However, it doesn’t penetrate very well, so anything I test should penetrate better than the Killzone.

For comparative purposes, I tested penetration and durability in comparison to the NAP Killzone broadhead.

Penetration Testing | The Setup

afflictor hybrid broadheads cut comparison vs nap killzone
This shows the initial cut size of the Afflictor Ultraviolet and Afflictor 1-3/4″ Hybrid vs. the NAP Killzone.

If you have seen any of my broadhead tests on mechanicals, you know that when I do comparative tests, I don’t test them on animals. The reason I don’t do this is because they don’t hold any value.

Different bones have different densities and bone geometries. Every animal is different. In addition, shooting angles on animal bone could have varied results, which would not provide good insight into how the broadhead truly performs.

So, I use a uniform medium to simulate animal anatomy as best as I can. I use carpet on the front and the back to simulate animal hide. I also use a rubber foam to simulate tissue and ½-inch plywood in the middle to simulate the bone.

Then I use a few more layers of rubber foam toward the end for padding, followed by another 3/8-inch plywood at the end just in case it were to make it through all of that.

I also have a thin sheet of cardboard in the very front to get a visual on how well the heads deploy on impact.  

afflictor broadheads penetration vs nap killzone angled shot
In the angled shot test, all three heads penetrated, but the Afflictor 1-3/4″ Hybrid slid on impact.

Penetration Test #1

I first tested the Killzone head, followed by the Afflictor 1¾-inch head and the Afflictor Ultraviolet.

In the penetration test, the Ultraviolet out-penetrated the others by a wide margin. Of course, the Ultraviolet it has that more swept initial tip and also has the 1½-inch cut, and that solid drive key. Those factors made all the difference in this penetration test.

Take a look at the Afflictor 1¾-inch cut broadhead. The 1¾ inches plus the ½-inch bleeder provides 2¼ inches of cut. The blades came all the way through the ½-inch plywood after going through the carpet and the rubber mat and the cardboard.

The NAP Killzone tip came through the wood, the blades did not. The NAP has a good, long tip that’s really tough. But the blades didn’t do any cutting on this test. All the broadheads in this test held up well in the penetration test.

broken nap killzone broadhead on angled shot
The NAP Killzone broadhead broke off at the ferrule during the angled shot penetration test.

Initial Cut Size

When inspecting the opening cut, the Ultraviolet opened 1½ inches from the main blades and then ½-inch from the bleeders and the bleeders stayed intact.

The 1¾-inch Afflictor Hybrid opened 1¾-inch on impact and then had the drive key bleeders cut  a ½-inch and those stayed intact as well.

The NAP Killzone advertises a 2-inch cut, and it actually cut a little over two inches (2-1/4 inches).

So, all the heads in this test opened well.

Penetration Test #2: Angled Shot

afflictor ultraviolet vs nap killzone angled penetration test
Afflictor Ultraviolet and NAP Killzone penetration through back of the plywood on angled shot penetration test

In the next test, I performed a steep angled shot.

I first shot the Killzone and it stuck right in. Then, I shot the Afflictor 1¾-inch Hybrid. It stuck in, but angled off a bit. Lastly, I shot the Afflictor Ultraviolet.

In the diagram below, you can see that the Killzone and the Ultraviolet penetrated through the back of the wood. The Killzone point come through the wood but not the blades. The Killzone also broke off at the ferrule and broke my arrow.

The 1¾-inch Hybrid went through all the layers of carpet and foam and cardboard and made a deep cut in the wood, but it skimmed across the top of the plywood.

Penetration Test #3: Afflictor Ultraviolet into 22-gauge steel

afflictor ultraviolet penetration into 22 gauge steel plate
Ultraviolet penetrating steel/wood and deploying blades.

In this test I shot the Afflictor Ultraviolet into 22-guage steel, backed with a 3/8-inch sheet of plywood, a ½-inch sheet of plywood, 4 rubber mats and a Rinehart target behind it.  

Because I didn’t want to break another arrow, I used the Mammoth Arrow by Bishop Archery, which are guaranteed for life.

The Ultraviolet went through the 22-gauge steel plate and poked through the back of the 3/8-inch board about a ½-inch. The tip held up really well.

The blades of the Ultraviolet not only went through the steel plate, but they opened up as well, which is very impressive. When I have shot other heads into steel and plywood in this manner, they only hold up when the blades don’t reach the steel plate. But here, the blades held up and even opened up inside of the steel plate. Even the drivel key was still intact.

afflictor ultraviolet tip after shot into 22 gauge steel plate
The tip and blades of Ultraviolet post steel plate test

Conclusion

In this Afflictors broadheads review I learned a lot. I didn’t really know what to expect from these heads. But, I have to say I was impressed. They have a very low profile and will fly really well.

I didn’t expect them to open so well, penetrates so deeply and hold up as well as they did through that medium.

The Ultraviolet’s penetration was extremely impressive, especially on the angled shot, as they not only penetrated the steel plate and the plywood, but also deployed the blades.

If you are looking for a fool-proof hybrid mechanical head, the Afflictors are going to fly like a dart and hold up well so you can kill some big game!

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backpack hunter with rifle

10 Essentials For Backpack Hunting | What You’ll Need

A backpack hunt can be a great way to get in touch with nature and turn a hunting trip into an explorative adventure. However, you need to bring the right gear for a hunt like this to have a comfortable and successful time. Below are 10 pieces of gear that you absolutely need to have on your next backpack hunt.

1. The Right Backpack For The Hunt

This seems like an obvious choice but choosing the right backpack is essential. It’s still important to address, though, because nothing is going to ruin your hunt like a backpack that’s uncomfortable or difficult to wear once it’s full.

Needless to say, not just any backpack will do. There are a few main things you want out of a backpack.

First, it should offer enough support and room that you aren’t struggling too much even after you’ve filled your pack.

Additionally, it needs to be durable. If you’re halfway through a backpack hunt only for one of the straps to break, that’s going to make the rest of the hunt much more difficult.

Many hunters find that frame packs help them carry everything that they need without wearing them down too much.

When you’re choosing the size of your pack, don’t forget to consider that if your hunt is successful, you’ll be carrying your game in addition to what you brought with you.

hand holding rifle and scope
Using a scope on your hunting rifle, as opposed to just iron sights will increase your chances of success on your hunt.

2. Your Rifle and Scope

If you’re hunting with a rifle, it goes without saying that you need to bring that rifle with you. But, what’s important is that you remember to bring the accessories that go with that rifle as well.

One piece of equipment that you’ll want to invest in regarding your rifle is a scope. The main reason you’ll want to do this is that it helps enhance your vision on the field.

You can get a much clearer picture of what’s happening when you take a shot rather than trying to squint and rely fully on your natural eyesight.

When it comes to scopes, though, you have a lot of options. This can make it a little intimidating to try and find something that works for you and fits your gun. Luckily, there are plenty of resources like OutdoorBest.com that will help you with taking these in and finding the best scope for your rifle.

Note: If you are a bow hunter, in addition to your bow, be sure to pack accessories such as broadheads, arrows, an extra release, etc.

3. The Right Wearables

When you’re going on a backpack hunt, it isn’t all about what you carry. In addition, you also have to think about what you’re going to wear.

First, make sure you have the warm hunting clothes you depend on during the season. This includes gear like insulated pants and a parka if necessary.

However, you’re also going to want to be prepared for inclement weather which means rain gear goes in your bag as well. The last thing you want is to be caught in the rain only for you and your gear to get soaked through.

It’s a good idea to invest in waterproof and water-resistant gear rather than just throwing a flimsy rain poncho into your bag. It’s also a good idea to bring an extra pair of shirts and paints just in case.

You also need to invest in a good pair of boots. These will help keep your feet safe and dry as well as comfortable. While your boots shouldn’t be old, it’s a good idea to wear a pair that’s already “broken in.” There’s a lot of public hunting land out there to be explored, and you don’t want to have to accommodate for blistered feet while you’re hiking your way through it.

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4. First Aid Kit… A Backpack Hunting Must

This is an important piece of gear to remember. Anytime you’re going on any type of outdoor excursion, no matter how much risk is involved, you’re going to want to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand. This will allow you to take care of anything like a scrape from a fall or take urgent methods to help get a more seriously injured party member to help.

There are two parts to making sure your kit is as useful as possible.

man holding hiking poles
Hiking poles are a must on a backpack hunt, as they will help you maintain good balance and take pressure off your legs and knees.

First, you need to have the right supplies. A well-stocked kit has more than just a few spare bandages and antibacterial wipes. It should be much more comprehensive including items like non-latex gloves, antibiotic ointment, gauze, tweezers, and more.

The Red Cross has a handy checklist of what should go in your kit. You should go back through this checklist before every outing.

Secondly, those supplies are only so helpful without the knowledge to use them. It’s a good idea to study up and make sure you have a first aid guide in your kit to help you out.

5. Hiking Poles

Hiking poles – also referred to as trekking poles – are a must for a backpack hunt. This is because there is a lot of hiking involved in backpack hunting and you want to be as smart and safe as possible.

Hiking poles can help take some of the pressure and impact of steep hiking off of your legs and knees. These poles are also praised for keeping your hands raised rather than at your sides which is better for circulation. This improves your stamina.

While there are a number of other benefits to go on about, another one of the biggest things that hikers often call on their hiking poles for is balance and anchoring in tough conditions. This is particularly useful in backpack hunting since you’re carrying a large pack that could throw your center of gravity off, especially when you’re carrying large game back.

backpack hunting knife
A knife is an invaluable tool on any backpack hunting trip.

6. A Knife

A knife is a must have on a backpack hunting trip. While there is some debate over whether a fixed blade or folding blade is the best choice, there’s no debate that having a knife on hand can be a lifesaver.

Of course, a knife comes in handy for standard tasks like field dressing your game, but knives are one of the most versatile tools to keep in your pack and can help with anything from first aid to preparing your nightly meal.

Because your knife is so important, it’s a good idea to keep a sharpener handy too. This way you don’t end up having to struggle with a dull knife. There are plenty of handheld models, so you don’t have to worry about losing a lot of storage space by taking it along.

7. Gear for Sleeping

backpack hunters
Travel as light as possible while still bringing what you will need to sleep on and in.

Without a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent, your hunting trip will probably be pretty short-lived. If you’re going backpack hunting and plan on staying a while away from hotels and homes, you’re going to need to be just as ready to camp as you are to hunt.

Also, be sure to take clothes to sleep in that are appropriate for the weather. A hat and warm socks will help you stay warm in a tent when the temperatures drop.

While you’re choosing your camping gear, remember that the general rule of thumb that you’ll want to follow is to travel light. After all, whatever you want to bring will be on your back most of the time. That’s why it’s a good reason to lean towards lighter, simpler tents rather than an excessively expansive or luxurious tent.

8. Food and Water

Once you have your shelter accounted for, you’re going to need to consider your other basic needs: food and water.

First, let’s look at water. This is one of the most important things you put in your bag because your body can’t operate in top condition without it.

It’s crucial to keep plenty of water on hand because you aren’t guaranteed to find a fresh, clean water supply while on your trip. It’s also a good idea to keep a way to purify water on hand. Iodine tablets or small, handheld water purifiers are popular among campers and hikers.

As for food, you have a lot of different options as to what you can bring to eat. You can rely on all of your campfire favorites including everything from made-for-camping freeze dried meals to your favorite coffee, as well as non-perishable snacks like trail mix and granola bars. As you learn your way around backpack hunting, you can get creative and find out what unique campsite meals you love.

When on a backpack hunt, the campfire is a critical piece, so don’t forget to keep a fire starter kit on hand just in case.

9. A Source of Heat

Whether you’re cooking or just staying warm at the end of the night, you’re going to need a way to get a fire started on your campsite. Matches and a lighter are good to keep handy but it’s also a good idea to have a fire starter kit on hand. This way, you won’t have to struggle trying to get started from scratch without help.

Don’t forget that you have to make sure any campfire you set has to be put out safely before you pack up for the night. It can go a long way to study up on or even keep a copy of the USDA Forest Service steps to extinguishing a campfire.

10. Game Bags

When you’re going to be carrying game long distances, you need a reliable way to do so. Your best bet here is to invest in game bags to carry your game in after you field dress it. This will help you make sure that it makes its way from the spot you took it down to your dinner table back at home.

Backpack hunting can be a unique and rewarding experience but you need to be well-prepared. So whether you’re after elk, mule deer or other big game, having basic essentials like these, you can be more prepared for what is hopefully a successful backpack hunt!

josh montgomery of minute man review
Josh Montgomery of Minute Man Review

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