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Antler Development, Part III

Aug 24, 2010

Some of you might remember two posts I made back in June and July documenting the antler growth of some deer I had been catching on a trail camera. Several readers expressed interest in more photos throughout the summer, so here are a few more. I think they are fascinating. Unfortunately, they have forced me to abandon my pretentions about being an antler expert.

 After the July antler post, someone asked how I could be sure I was looking at the same deer when I traced antler development. I don’t remember how I answered that question. I hope I was honest and admitted that I couldn’t be sure. Knowing what I do now, I have to admit that some or all of my interpretations of antler photos are subject to revision and are no better than anyone else’s.
deer antlers 1

Take a look at the accompanying photos, all of which were taken between Aug. 14 and 19. The first two show a smallish buck with a scrubby four-point antler on one side and a forked nub on the other. I call him Stumpy. I’m not sure if all the points on his right antler are at least an inch long, which would make him a legal deer under the four-point rule. This uncertainty probably will force me to pass up a shot if I see him during hunting season. That’s too bad. He would be a good eater.

antlers 2

I also am unsure about what caused one side of his antlers to stop growing--an injury maybe, or maybe lousy genetics. It would be ironic if coming up short in the antler department allowed Stumpy, the laughingstock of the local deer herd, to survive and pass his genes on to future generations. But enough about Stumpy.

The third and fourth photos show a young buck with a tall, narrow eight-point rack. I call him Augustus Nineteenus for the date on the photos. I believe Nineteenus is the same deer that showed up in an early-June trail-cam photo sporting 12-inch antlers that already showed a pronounced upturn, rather than the outward sweep that produces trophy antlers. In my second antler post, I said I thought he was the same deer that showed up in a July photo with a much wider, heavier eight-point rack. Now I look at those two photos and wonder how I ever confused the two of them. It seems clear now that they are two different deer.antlers 3

Now check out the big boy in the last photo, which is from Aug. 16. I call this deer Rex the Wonder Deer, because I wonder how he survived long enough to grow antlers like that in my heavily hunted neighborhood. His rack looks much more like the one in a July 13 photo published with my second antler post. And check out the difference in body size between Rex and Nineteenus. Body size and color seem very similar between Rex and the deer from June 13.antlers 4


Being bamboozled by backyard bucks doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the photos one bit. The mystery of antlers is what makes them so fascinating. How do they grow so fast? Why do some antlers develop into perfectly symmetrical, typical racks, while others get funky, like Stubby’s unbalanced headgear or like the astonishing atypical rack of the world-record Missouri Monarch? Why do deer grow bigger antlers in some areas than others? Will the burly buck you saw with velvety stubs in May be a wallhanger by November, or will his antlers fizzle? Is the huge-antlered deer you saw last year still around, and if so, how big will his rack be this year? Anyone who can answer these questions with certainty ought to be able to make a million dollars. I would gladly chip in for a little more antler savvy.

antlers 5



Hi, Thanks such a great information’s really like to read this topic. This is really a well written article about a great project! It’s very useful…

Mr. Low, I was'nt trying to insult your intelligents in my quizzing you on the certiany of the deer in the photo. I was only trying to learn the technique to use for myself. I too have been buffaloed by the velvet. I think the deer transform so much from velvet to hard horn, that I have had a terrible time identifying or even recoginizing the deer I have watched all summer long. I really appriciate your honesty and insights. Comparing notes and stories is my favorite way to learn about wildlife. Thanks for the great work that you and the rest of the DOC staff do.

Last year I shot a buck with a beautiful 5 point sweep on one side and a twisted two pronged thing on the other side. We noticed that on the same side as the twisted prong he had been injured on the back leg and it had healed, albeit badly. We had seen him the previous winter around February when he sustained the injury to his back leg but he had already lost his antlers so we don't know what he looked like previously. We wonder if the energy and nutrients he expended in healing his leg is what caused his malformed antler.

Thanks for this informative article. I've been hunting in Iowa and MIssouri for almost 3 years already and I'm curious about antler development in whitetails. Thanks buddy.

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