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Why Are Hunters Obsessed with Antlers?

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For most deer hunters, antlers are the thing that really gets your motor running. Seasoned hunters will often tell new sportsmen and women that after you make up your mind to take a particular buck, ignore the rack and focus on the deer and where you want to place that arrow, bolt, or bullet. Why do they say that? Because they know the rack will get you excited and you’ll often blow the shot. This is referred to as “buck fever”.

What is it about antlers that gets us going? We know you can’t eat them…but we hang them over our fireplaces, above the barn door, and countless other places. I interviewed for a job years ago in a hospital of all places and the guy that interviewed me had a deer mount in his office. I haven’t done that yet but I have two moose sets hanging in my living room.

Antlers fascinate us and I seem to get asked more about antlers then any other aspect of hunting or the outdoors and often it is non hunters that have the most questions. Antlers are some of the fastest-growing tissue on the planet. All species of the deer family have antlers, and typically only males grow them. Female caribou grow antlers and female whitetail deer can on rare occasions, as well.

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions people have is they think antlers are horns, which they are not. Typically the antlers are shed (fall off) every year in the winter and the deer will grow a new set. Horns are rather permanent and do not go through as rapid a growth antlers do. This time of the year the antlers are still growing and they are called in velvet. They appear fuzzy and actually are somewhat soft to the touch, but I don’t recommend attempting to pet a wild deer.

Bull Elk with antlers in velvet

In late summer or early fall, the blood flow to the antlers will stop and they will harden up and lose the velvet layer. They’ll go through the fall and winter with the hard antlers till they eventually fall off and a new set begins to grow, starting the process all over. A lot of people think you can tell the age of a buck by his antlers, which is incorrect. Genetics, food and nutrition, as well as available minerals seem to play a much bigger role in antler development then age does. A four point buck last year may or may not be a six point this year.

Bull Moose still in velvet

While a number of hunt clubs have point restrictions (“4pts one side” seems to be a common one or the antlers have to be out past the ears), that doesn’t always ensure you are only killing mature bucks.

Smaller buck antlers have not grown out past ears

His antlers are clearly past his ears, but for clubs that have 4 or more point on one side he wouldn’t be a shooter.

Taking mature bucks only is the key strategy for getting bigger bucks, and if you encourage deer development with food plots and other nutrition, it should help stack the deck so you’ll see nice racks around your stand. Counting points is just not an effective method, so that is why I’m opposed to across-the-board antler restrictions.

Bucks with hard antlers sparring

Over the last few weeks I’ve had ample opportunity to see a number of species of the deer family with their antlers growing that got me on this topic today. There are all kinds of products for food plots and mineral licks to help improve your local favorite deer herd. I’ve not done any extensive testing with any to be able to recommend one brand over another, so I’d suggest you do some research on that if you’re interested. I will link you to one article I recently read that I found some good information on about antler growth over on the QDMA website that you should check out.

Images copyright and courtesy Moose Droppings blog

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • Rob Wood

    I grew up hunting in Africa (Zimbabwe) so am talking about my experience with horns as opposed to antlers and I was never able to understand the interest of the majority in horn sizes or maturity, I personally was always most atracted to young males within batchelor herd but this was because they were always the most tender to eat. Sure it’s nice to have a big rack as a conversation piece but in my mind at least a quality meal with your loved ones is even better and depending on what you do with your meat could even be a conversation piece for years to come.

  • Rich Boyd

    Because they’re “cool,” sometimes even “majestic.” They are works of art of nature.