06 Apr ANTLER
Hunters dream about antlers! Throughout history, hunters celebrate and embrace antlers as memorials, weapons, tools, art, or symbols of accomplishment. Big, symmetrical, non-typical, massive, freakish, unique, wide, tall, or just a simple rack. Antlers are alluring!
Some hunters also like “horns”. Antler and horn both come off the head of male mammals, but that is where the similarities end and begin. History suggests that both horns, and antlers, evolved as a form of protection and mating attraction. Early “antler/ horn-like” appendages were called “peduncles” or “ossicones”. They formed a helmet like structure to protect the heads of early “cervids” and “bovids”. These early antlers and horns were connected to the skull by cartilage and skin. They also were under the skin. Later, they fused to the skulls, and became connected. “Peduncles” poked out through the skin and eventually became a “pedicel”.
Horns grow continuously throughout the animal’s life and are never shed. If a horn is damaged, it is damaged for life. Horn material is porous inside and is covered with a sheath material that is like hooves or fingernails. Antelope, or “Pronghorns”, are the only “horned animal” that annually sheds the outer sheath of its horn.
Antlers are found on the family “Cervidae” critters. In North America, that includes deer, moose, elk, and caribou. Antlers are shed annually and are solid bone. They do not have any marrow, nerves, or outer sheath. Antlers change and grow differently from year to year.
All modern deer, or “Cervids”, have “pedicels”, which form the base from which an antler grows. The cue for growth to begin is increasing daylight, or photoperiod. The buck’s pituitary gland is stimulated to secrete hormones, that signals the secretion of testosterone. Bone salts begin to deposit on the pedicel covered in a thick and rich network of blood vessels called “velvet”. Deposited bone salts form, and grow the antler.
Antler, is among the fastest growing material in animals. Some antler grows over ½ inch in length each day. During early growth, soft antler can be damaged easily. It is common for antlers to bend backwards or take on odd shapes. Injured animals tend to have a smaller antler on the opposite side of the injury. Wasps can lay their eggs within the material which forms holes or bulges in antler. Bumps on antler are the result of fly, and mosquito bites.
BIG TROPHY ANTLERS are the result of age, health, genetics, and food. With the right mix of these factors, certain areas can become more reliable to produce “trophy” wall hangers. Some hunters tag trophy bucks or bulls by luck. Other, more skilled woodsmen, can harvest big racks more often. Ironically, early hunters did not harvest the bigger bucks and bulls. They preferred the younger, tastier, dumber, and more tender deer in the herd.
Latitude determines when antler velvet is shed. Northern areas begin losing velvet in August and some southern areas shed velvet as late as October. When velvet is stripped, Rut, or breeding season, begins. When the testosterone levels decrease, after Rut, the antlers are shed, or fall off.
Bull Elk hold onto their antlers the longest. They may not drop antlers until late April. Keeping antlers longer allows the bulls to maintain a defense against predators, late into the winter. Bucks tend to rejoin the herd of does for protection after their antlers shed. Bull elk form bachelor groups for protection.
Antlers are the symbols of authority in a herd. The bigger the stronger. Bucks, and bulls, confront each other by waving their headgear in an arc to display dominance. The longer the swing or greater the arc, the stronger the “boss”. During the rut, antlers attract does for breeding, and serve as weapons to fight other competing bucks for breeding rights, and territory. Big “wall hangers” are also symbols of skill in the “hunter herds”.
Many hunters find antlers to be memorials. They remind them of a moment when good fortune, planning, preparation, and practice ensured a good choice. The meat fed their families and the hunt fed their soul. The touch and sight of antlers are just a symbol of the diversity and excitement of nature. The first thing a hunter touches, when the buck or bull is down, is the rack. Antlers are just magical, strong, and inspiring.
Hunt more, hunt more often!
For more Montana Grant, visit his website at www.montanagrantfishing.com.