There comes a time in the off-season when whitetail deer hunters all over the country become obsessed with collecting deer antlers. This obsession corresponds with the time of the year when deer begin to shed their antlers. If you are new to shed hunting and are eager to collect your first deer antlers, you are probably wondering when do deer shed their antlers? This is the million-dollar question that every shed hunter must find an answer to when the hunting season is over.
Well, deer generally start losing their antlers from December 1 to Mid of January (Early winter season) when the rutting season concludes. After the rutting season, the antlers become weak and will fall off. Also, the hormonal change that triggers antler shedding generally occurs in the late winter to early spring months. But there is no set time for all deer in the same area to shed their antlers, and this process usually varies depending on location.
As a whitetail deer hunter, I have collected my fair share of deer antlers. One of my latest trophy antlers was taken in early winter by a 12-point buck I harvested with my bow. That’s why I have come up with several useful tips on how to find deer antlers. These are the tips I will be sharing with you in this article and exploring why deer shed antlers and how and when they shed antlers.
How And Why Deer Shed Antlers?
Deer antlers form over the course of a year. The antler is made up of honeycomb bone tissue covered in a thin layer of skin and blood vessels called velvet.
Like many other animals, deer use their antlers as weapons during the mating season. This means that mature male bucks fight each other for the chance to mate with females using their antlers. In this regard, the levels of testosterone in a deer’s body will have a direct impact on the growth of antlers.
Photoperiod (light/dark cycles) plays an important role in antler growth and the time frame of shedding. When the level of testosterone reaches a certain level, shedding of antlers will commence.
During the fall, the level of testosterone increases. The increase in testosterone corresponds with the mating season or rut. As the mating season ends in later winter, the testosterone levels in mature deer decrease.
This decrease results in the production of hormones that reabsorb calcium from the bony area at the base of the antlers, known as the pedicle.
The latter is the part of the deer’s head that connects the head and the antlers. The reabsorption of calcium from the pedicle results in weakening this connector part.
The weakened pedicle causes the antlers to fall off. Interestingly mature bucks often shed their antlers earlier than younger bucks. This is probably due to the fact that older bucks have lower levels of testosterone and hence a weaker pedicle. The decreased levels of testosterone cause the formation of an abscission layer between the pedicles and antlers in individual deer, thereby shedding them.
How often do deer shed their antlers?
Deer shed their antlers every year during the mating season and in early winter. The process of shedding could take anywhere between two to three weeks. And the complete antler fall could last anywhere from a few hours to a maximum of 48 hours.
Does it hurt when deer shed their antlers?
It is worth noting that the shedding of antlers does not harm or cause any pain to a deer. Scientifically speaking, specialized cells known as osteoclast are responsible for the reabsorption of calcium from the bony part known as the pedicle.
What Happened After The Anter Fall off?
After the antlers fall off, bleeding occurs on the exposed bone. However, the bleeding stops, and a scab forms over it.
In the summer, the antlers begin to grow and develop a thick cover that is velvet in color. This velvet color results from the flow of blood carrying vitamins and minerals to the antlers.
The antler growth can take anywhere between four and five months. Once the antlers are fully grown, a hardened bony ring form at the base, causing an end to blood flow to the antlers. This results in the velvet color disappearing.
So Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?
Well, this is not an easy question to answer. However, there are several reasons that have been advanced as to why deer shed their antlers.
The main reason is the physical toll put on a deer’s body during the mating season. During the mating season, male bucks engage in fighting and chasing female bucks. All these activities usually take a physical toll on their bodies. When the mating season ends, the deer’s testosterone levels decrease because of the physical toll.
A significant body of research conducted on why deer shed antlers reveals that older deer shed antlers faster than younger deer. In fact, a whopping 62% of deer, which are aged 3½ and older, shed their antlers faster than younger deer.
When Do Deer Shed Their Antlers, Time, Factors, And Places?
The answer to the question depends on a number of factors, which I have highlighted below.
As stated above, older deer shed antlers earlier than younger deer. In this regard, deer aged 3½ shed their antlers in mid-December. Therefore, one of the best times to go shed hunting is mid-December.
The shedding of antlers is highly dependent on where deer live. Deer that inhabit the colder regions of the country, i.e., the Northern part, are usually the first to shed off antlers. In these parts, antler shedding can begin as early as mid to late December.
On the other hand, as you make your way down to the south, where the temperatures are moderate, antler shedding takes some time to begin.
Generally, deer start losing their antlers in areas with moderate temperatures from mid-January to February.
Deer that inhabit the hot Southern States have to wait until the beginning of March to lose their antlers. In these areas, the antler shedding season can run from early March to mid-April.
However, in areas with large deer populations, the deer tend to shed their antlers earlier and, in most cases, in mid-December. This is because areas with a large population of deer are characterized by poor nutrition, which affects when deer shed antlers.
A male deer that roam the Midwestern farm counties, where nutrition is good and well balanced, tend to shed antlers later on in mid-January.
Contrastingly, deer in areas with poor nutrition tend to shed their antlers earlier in mid-December. Good nutrition helps maintain a deer’s testosterone levels for longer.
The physical condition also affects when deer will start shedding their antlers. In general, deer in good physical condition are usually the last to shed off their antlers. They do this because they feel confident and comfortable with their dominance over others. Conversely, deer that are not in good physical condition or injured deer tend to lose their antlers earlier than deer in good physical condition.
Sexual Maturity Of Doe fawns
Other factors that contribute to the onset of late rutting are the sexual maturity of doe fawns. Doe fawns reaching sexual maturity can cause late rutting activity. These factors contribute towards later dates in shedding.
The bottom line is that there is no universal answer to when bucks lose their antlers. However, it is generally accepted that the shedding of antlers occurs between December and March. The exact time will depend on many factors, including the ones I have highlighted above.
Tips On Finding Shed Deer Antlers
It is the desire of every hunter to find as many deer antlers as is humanly possible. However, not all shed hunters end up getting their prize. If you want to succeed in your antler hunting, below are some useful tips.
Know Where To Look
The number one reason you are not successful in your shed hunting endeavors is that you are looking in the wrong places. Knowing where to look is important if you want to find deer antlers. There are several spots you should prioritize when searching for deer antlers.
Number one is deer bedding areas. During winter, deer spend most of their time sleeping to conserve energy. Therefore, to increase your chances of finding antlers, search deer bedding areas. In most cases, deer choose coniferous forests as their preferred bedding areas.
Another spot where you are likely to find deer antlers is on trails with obstacles, such as fences. Antlers fall off due to sudden movements, such as when a deer jumps. Therefore, search for trails that have obstacles.
Timing Is Everything
Needless to say, you will not be the only hunter searching for antlers. Additionally, depending on where you are searching, you will likely be competing with squirrels.
Squirrels love deer antlers for their calcium. Therefore, if you live in an area where squirrels roam, go out to search for antlers regularly. However, if you are in an area where squirrels do not frequently wait until March, when most deer have shed their antlers, you may want to wait until later in the shed season.
Use A Dog
Dogs are 100 times better at locating antlers than we are. The reason is that dogs have a better sense of smell and sight than we do. Thus, dogs can smell antlers and see them quicker than we can. Therefore, to increase your chances of finding antlers, use an antler hunting dog.
Use Your Optics
Just because you are antler hunting does not mean you leave your hunting gear at home. There are several tools that will be useful on your antler hunting trip. Therefore, be sure to carry a good pair of binoculars or an optic to scope an area. Using a pair of binoculars or optics will help you minimize the amount of time spent walking.
Learn more about the best rangefinder bino for hunting
Install Trail Camera
If you do not have access to an antler hunting dog or if the terrain is too difficult for a dog, consider installing a trail camera. This will allow you to photograph deer or elk as they come into view and also document any antlers that are present. Also in addition, trail cameras will give you an idea of what deer are feeding, as well as their antler size and shedding schedule. This informations will help you not only to understand deer antler hunting in the area but also to improve your deer hunting skills.
When deer shed their antlers, they do so in a predictable way. By baiting trail cameras with corn and then watching the footage, you can determine when most of your bucks have shed their antler. This information will help you time your hunting trips to coincide with the shedding season for the deer in your area.
Can You Legally Collect Shed Antlers?
You can collect antlers from any deer that sheds them during the shedding season. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. First of all, you should always ask the owner’s permission if you decide to collect their antlers. Secondly, be sure to follow any hunting regulations that may apply in the area where you’re collecting antlers. Finally, always be aware of the potential for rabies exposure when Collecting Shed Antlers.
In summary, the answer to when whitetail deer shed their antlers is between December and early April. Therefore, if you want to collect your first antlers, I suggest going antler hunting either in mid-December or mid-March.
But most importantly, do not forget to follow all the tips I have highlighted above. The last thing you want is to waste time searching for antlers in areas where there are none or before deer start shedding. In this regard, I hope that you have read the article to the end.
About The Author:
Lake Streeter, A Gun enthusiast, and loves to hunt in the middle of the wood. Always check the latest hunting gears out in the market and try to share his honest opinion with the audience in Hunting Nook.