Have you ever been walking in the woods and come across a deer’s antler? Maybe you want to give shed hunting a try and are curious what causes a deer to shed its antlers. In this article, we’ll talk about what happens when a deer sheds its antlers–including why, how, and when this process takes place.
What You'll Learn Today
Do All Deer Lose Their Antlers?
Not all deer grow antlers, but those that do lose them at some point throughout the year.
In most species, only male deer, or bucks, grow antlers. It is part of the natural biological process for bucks to lose their antlers after the mating season, or rut, is over.
A few species of deer, such as the Asia-native water deer, do not grow antlers, and thus do not have to shed them. On the other hand, both male and female reindeer grow antlers, and both sexes eventually shed their antlers.
Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?
In most species of deer, antler growth is directly related to hormones and lay length. In the late spring and summer, as days grow longer, the increasing sunlight triggers the antlers to grow.
They grow rapidly for a few months, until an increase in testosterone causes them to stop growing and harden into tough, bone-like structures. The bucks retain their antlers throughout the mating season, using them to attract mates and fight off rival males.
After the rut, however, testosterone levels drop rapidly, causing the antlers to loosen from the pedicles, where the antlers attach to the head. This loosening process usually takes two to three weeks, but once the antlers are ready to come off, they are usually shed within a day or two.
So, deer shed their antlers after the mating season because of decreasing testosterone levels. As mentioned, this is a natural part of the process; new antlers will begin growing soon, sometimes almost immediately after the old ones are shed.
Check out this video to learn more about this process:
When Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?
If you want to try your hand at shed hunting, you may be curious about when, exactly, deer shed their antlers. The exact timeframe can vary and depends on a number of factors.
Generally speaking, most deer shed their antlers between January and March. However, some deer may shed as early as November or December or as late as April.
Deer that are sick, injured, or stressed in some other way may experience a drop in testosterone levels, causing them to shed their antlers prematurely. A lack of sufficient nutrition can cause a similar effect.
Periods of drought or harsh winters can cause a premature shed among all the bucks in a region. On the other hand, mild weather and plenty of food and other resources can cause the rut to last longer, allowing bucks to retain their antlers until later in the winter or spring.
Older bucks, over the age of six, may also shed their antlers sooner than younger ones due to overall decreased testosterone levels.
Meanwhile, if there are a lot of does in a region and many of them remain unbred late into the rut, the testosterone levels of any local males will remain high and their antlers will remain intact for a longer period of time.
Finally, female reindeer tend to retain their antlers the longest, often not shedding until after giving birth each April or May.
Do Deer’s Antlers Grow Back?
Because antler-shedding is a natural part of a deer’s life, it is an ongoing process. Anytime a deer sheds its current set of antlers, a new pair begins to grow.
As noted, a deer’s antlers begin to grow back soon after the old ones are shed–sometimes almost immediately. That said, it can take up to a few months before the new antlers begin to show up.
It is the drop in testosterone and increasing photoperiod, or daylight hours, that cause a deer to shed its antlers. These same factors are what trigger the deer’s body to begin growing new antlers.
Thus the process continues, year after year. Deer lose their antlers once a year, and they begin growing their next pair that same year.
Does Shedding Antlers Hurt the Deer?
You might imagine that shedding antlers would be a painful process for deer. After all, it seems like it would take a decent amount of force to knock the bony projections loose from their head.
What’s more, when a deer sheds its antlers, the pedicles sometimes bleed a little bit. This is because there are a lot of blood vessels in the pedicles which supply nutrients to the antlers in their growing stage.
Despite what you might assume, shedding antlers isn’t actually painful to the deer, as the antlers loosen significantly and separate themselves from the pedicles before coming off.
If anything, this process may be itchy or slightly uncomfortable, as deer are often observed beating their antlers against the ground or a tree trunk to help speed up the loosening.
After the antlers fall, the pedicles may be raw at first, but they quickly toughen as they scab over and begin preparing for the growth of new antlers.
Deer shed their antlers due to changes in hormone levels and daylight hours, though other factors can sometimes play a role. The antlers usually come off between January and March each year, and new antlers begin growing shortly thereafter.