Four-point rule lets bucks make the most of June growth spurt

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A few days ago, I changed out the memory card in the trail camera my son gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago. When I downloaded the digital photos, I found a bunch of two 2-year-old white-tailed deer bucks. The camera’s time stamp fixed the dates of the photos between mid-May and mid-June. The quality is not great, but good enough to allow me to identify individual deer captured near the lens and make out some details of antler growth even at a distance.

The first photo, taken on May 15, shows the largest buck’s velvet-covered antlers about 5 inches long and just starting to fork. If you had asked me that day how his antlers would look when fully grown, I would have guessed this deer would have ended up a four-pointer.

Fast-forward 25 days to June 9, when the trail camera snapped the next photo of this deer, and you find its antlers have sprouted to around 10 inches. They still have only two points each, but the end of the longer, main branch is swollen, sort of like the end of a chicken drumstick bone. I would not have guessed it at the time, but this swelling represented the start of a second fork.

The last time this buck mugged for my camera was just four days later, June 13. The distance and angle of the photo makes estimating antler length difficult, but instead of an upright fork, the deer now has a pair of classic antlers, with the tips growing forward and sporting two definite forks, plus several budding points. It’s difficult to count points accurately, but the total seems to be between six and 10.

I never would have believed this was the same deer as the one photographed June 15. However, Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen says whitetails’ antlers can grow as much as two inches a day at this time of year. At that rate, the antlers on my camera-hogging deer could have grown 8 inches between June 9 and 13. That’s about what it looks like in the latest photo. I sure hope they keep growing at this rate for a few more days!

I suspect this is the six-point buck I watched while deer hunting last year. He wasn’t legal under the four-point restriction, which applies to my home area. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be legal this year, but I’ll keep my trail cam out just to be sure.

By late August, the blood vessels that deliver astonishing amounts of calcium and other materials to developing antlers will wither, and velvet sheaths will begin sloughing off. By October, this guy’s antlers will be rubbed clean on saplings, and he will begin sparring with other bucks.

Maybe it’s better if I don’t think about this too much. Now is the time to enjoy fishing and blackberry picking!