1) Back around April, as the days got longer and the light increased, new antlers began to grow from buds that formed on pedicels on bucks’ heads. Within a month, main beams and brow tines began to sprout and split off.
2) Now, throughout early summer, the fledgling racks grow fast and furious. Antler tissue is the fastest-growing tissue in the animal world. Beams and tines may grow a quarter-inch or more per day, the process driven by a buck’s hormones and the photoperiod of the days.
3) According to biologists, a buck’s rack will show most of its points by mid-June, though tine length is typically less than half developed at this time. Most of the beam length will grow by late June.
4) Those are general rules, but the growth of individual racks can vary. Some bucks will show a lot of antler growth early, while others seem to add a bunch to their rack later in July.
Here are some interesting facts about summer antler growth:
5) Antlers are made of bone, consisting mostly of calcium (22% in fully developed bone), phosphorus (11%), magnesium and other minerals. Although some of the minerals needed for antler growth are taken from food, scientists note that lot of them are sucked from the buck’s skeleton, which may cause him to develop osteoporosis during the summer. Setting mineral licks for the deer may help.
6) Throughout June and July, velvet antlers have a complex system of blood vessels that causes them to be hot to the touch. There is so much blood carrying protein and minerals to a buck’s antlers that even small racks easily detected with thermal imaging devices.
7) Tiny hairs on the velvet stick out and make growing antlers appear thicker than they really are. The hairs act as a radar system so the buck won’t bump into trees, fence posts, etc. and damage his soft antlers.
8) Sebum, a semi-liquid secretion, on the hairs gives the velvet a shiny look. Sebum also acts as an insect repellent to keep biting flies off a buck’s rack and face.
9) In early August antlers begin to morph from soft and pliable to hardened bone. A buck’s antlers will change from looking swollen or bulbous at the tips of the tines to a more normal diameter. Once this change in appearance occurs the buck won’t add much beam or tine growth.
10) By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done. Sometime between September 1 and 15 bucks typically shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.
11) Velvet shedding typically takes only a couple of hours, though it is not uncommon to see a deer walking around for day or two with bloody velvet tatters. One last thing you might not know: Bucks have been known to turn their heads and peel or even eat the dry velvet off their new racks!
After that, the tree rubbing and antler-polishing begin. With their new crowns gleaming, mature bucks are ready and willing to breed the does for the next three months, until their testosterone begins to fade and the fascinating antler cycle begins all over again.