Wednesday, May 27, 2015

3 Essentials to Growing Antlers

The thought of how fast antlers can grow is mind blowing. It starts in the spring with little pedestals. By September those antlers are hardened and shined to pristine battle condition. What’s even more amazing are the different sizes and shapes the antlers grow to. This is not by some stroke of luck. There are three variables that affect how big antlers will grow. In order to make an impact on how antlers grow, we must first understand the three essentials to antler growing.
  All through the growing season, bucks will roam field edges where they can eat and grow their soft and fragile antlers. Soon as the antlers get hard, bucks will begin to shed the velvet. From there a buck will shine the antlers on trees while also building up the muscles in his neck. All this work is done for the intensive breeding (The Rut) season that will drain the buck’s body to sometimes 60% of his normal weight. Shortly after the rut, the buck will drop his antlers due to the lack of nutrition and testosterone levels. He will try to survive the winter in hopes of starting a new antler growing season in the spring.
With that brief understanding of how a bucks year will go, lets discuss the three essentials to antler growth and how the effect a Bucks antler potential.
             Just like humans, Whitetails have genetics that will entice certain characteristics. A lot like how a human will have black hair versus blond hair, Whitetails bucks carry genetics that favor different characteristics in antler growth. It’s the main reason you will see a buck with a wide spread and short tines and in turn see a buck with tall tines but a narrow spread.
            In order to produce the best genetics in an area, the bad genetics have to go. This means harvesting those older bucks that do not have the antler potential you are trying to keep in the breeding pool. Along with that, it may best suit your efforts to let young bucks with a lot of potential walk. This means shooting the old heavy horned six points over the young pencil horned eight or ten point. The older six point’s genetics are not desired because the maximum antler potential is so low.  The young eight point will boast a nice rack if given enough time to grow.

            Everything gets better with time. This can be no further from the truth in the matter of antler growth. It’s believed that a whitetail buck will reach his maximum potential in his sixth year of antler growth. A six year old buck is hard to come by where I hunt in Michigan, but I can tell you a 4 ½ year old buck most always has a much bigger rack than his first year counterparts.
             Just like in human males, as a buck gets older, his testosterone levels will increase. Testosterone plays a big part in how rapid the antlers will grow. Testosterone also increases the potential for muscle growth. This can be seen in older bucks when compared to younger bucks because, like antlers, an older buck most always has a much bigger neck during the rut. This is because his testosterone output is much higher than the 1 ½ year old buck you see in the woods.

             Killing even a 4 ½ year old buck is hard. I would never tell a hunter to pass on a 1 ½ year old eight point if I knew they would be happy with it, but if you want to kill a buck close to his maximum potential, you have to let the young ones pass. Even on the public land I hunt, I try not to shoot bucks until they are 3 ½ years old. I have taken respectable bucks at 2 ½ and was totally happy with the harvest, but it’s hard not to wonder what they could have amounted to at 3 ½ or older.

            It’s no secret that food plays a big role in antler growth. It’s one of the most marketed products in the deer hunting world today. Food plots and mineral supplements give deer the edge to make it through rough winters while also supplying abundant nutrition throughout the antler growing season. Where supplements and food plots are legal, I extremely recommend them. Just like an athlete training for a sporting event, bucks need nutrition all year around to grow antlers, muscle and stay healthy enough to make it through the winter.
           Being that crude protein makes up the majority of antlers, I would suggest using supplements and food plots that are high in protein. A high protein diet will also help deer make it through the rigorous breeding season and the winter that leads into the next years growing season. The healthier a buck is the more potential it has to reach his maximum antler size.
           For those that hunt public land and want to make a difference, I would recommend getting involved with environmental organizations that improve public hunting land. In Michigan we have a group called the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC). This group travels Michigan and participates in projects that enhance the food and cover available on our public lands. You can start helping to improve our public lands by volunteering your time and working on projects with groups like these.
          We as hunters play I big role in protecting and improving our deer herd. These essentials to growing bigger antlers can also be used for the overall health of our deer herd. Whether you are a trophy hunter or a meat hunter, there is always something you can be doing to improve our herd’s potential. Get involved, get Wild and Stay Wild!