by
Naomi K. Shapiro

big bucksThroughout the year whitetail bucks and the occasional doe grow antlers. The antlers start growing in early spring and throughout the year, until late August/early September, when the antler growth stops. Throughout the growing season the antlers are coated in a light velvety coating that helps protect the antlers and encourages growth. Underneath the velvet the blood and nutrient flow promoting the growth of antlers. At the end of the growth cycle, the velvet falls or is peeled off by rubbing and scraping and voila, the mature antler is exposed.
There can be a lot of irregularity in antler growth. Throughout the year as antlers grow, bucks get in fights with other bucks, or an antler is dinged or is banged on something. These types of events will cause some type of visible or hidden “splinter” in the antler, and will result in an irregularity in the antler. This type of irregularity can also be caused by something like an injured leg or joint, or equally common – being hit by a car.
What these types of “injuries” do is to draw the attention of the deer’s immune and nutrient system from the antler to the injured part of the body. This will result in an irregular growth of an antler. The injury generally will affect the growth of the antler on the side of the injury. And friends, this is a very common occurrence in whitetails. That’s why perfect and symmetrical racks are so prized.
Typically, when antlers grow, they grow in unison, and as the animal ages and matures, the antlers grow larger and heavier, with more and longer tines. What a deer hunter looks for and can determine from antlers are several different things: The type of nutrients, genetics and deer management in a particular area. Without naming any particular area in Wisconsin, there are areas where trophy bucks are far more common than in others. These areas generally have a lot of exceptionally good deposits of needed nutrients and minerals both in the ground and in available forage. And then there’s the commitment of that area – -and its hunters – -to closely manage the deer population. Generally in these “big rack” trophy areas, smaller deer are simply not being taken. Cooperation on all fronts means that the trophies will be there, albeit they are never a “gimme.” Deer hunters who frequent these areas often would rather come home empty-handed than with a small deer. “You make your choice and you take your chances” as the old saying goes.
Here is a non-scientific scenario of antler growth.
A new buck to about six months of age will by September or so have a couple of little nubs on his head about an inch or so high. These animals are called “nubber bucks.” It is illegal to hunt them in many states (check your regs! – -as I keep “preaching” to you to do – – before going out). A buck that’s a year-and-a-half old and has carried through its first winter and made it to its second year is called a “spike buck.” They’ll have two spikes sticking straight out of their head, with anywhere from four to eight points, with an average width of seven to eight inches, and tines two to four inches long. From what I’ve seen, I’d estimate that 90% of the bucks taken in Wisconsin in any given year fall into this category.
If a buck makes it through its second year, they really start to put on growth in their antlers – -depending again on their food source, genetics and area management. Their racks will get heavier and wider, with longer tines. You can get bucks with 20 inch spreads, and 14 inch tines. These bucks are called “trophies” (as if you didn’t know – and stop salivating- – they are out there, but they take a lot of patience and effort to bag. I know. The closest I’ve ever gotten to one is seeing a shed here-and-there).