White-tailed deer management

This deer conservation overview is one in a series developed jointly by MU gaianation.net and also the gaianation.net room of Conservation.

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Robert A. Pierce IIFisheries and also Wildlife State SpecialistSchool of organic ResourcesJason SumnersResource Scientistgaianation.net department of ConservationEmily FlinnResource Scientistgaianation.net department of Conservation

Antlers are among the many identifiable attributes of varieties of the deer family, Cervidae, i m sorry comprises caribou, elk, moose, mule deer and also white-tailed deer (Figure 1). Antlers have been prized and also pursued by hunters for plenty of centuries. Their rapid growth and deciduous (regrown every year) nature has actually made them fascinating for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

Within the previous decade, numerous gaianation.net landowners have refocused their white-tailed deer administration objectives to allow much more male deer in the populace the opportunity to with older period classes and, thus, the potential to create larger antlers. An knowledge of the components that regulate antler growth and also implications on managing white-tailed deer populations is important to accomplish these quality deer administration objectives.

Figure 1. Masculine white-tailed deer prosper a brand-new set that antlers every year.


Antlers are bone formations that construct from the pedicle ~ above the frontal bone that the skull of masculine deer. Number 2 illustrates the basic terminology for parts of the antler.

Pedicles end up being visible together buttons on males at around 4 to 5 months of period (Figure 3). Deer grow and shed antlers every year, requiring huge amounts of nutrients and energy. Typically, just male deer grow antlers. Mrs deer have been recorded to flourish antlers as soon as experiencing issues with regulation that the hormone testosterone, i m sorry happens an extremely rarely. Caribou space the just deer in which females regularly thrive antlers. The size and formation of antlers vary widely amongst deer in general. Antler growth depends on an individual deer’s accessibility to quality nutrition, age and genetics. However, factors such as date of birth and also condition that the mother can affect antler development.

Figure 2. Deer antler terminology.

Figure 3. Male white-tailed deer will certainly often flourish "buttons" together fawns.

Purpose that antlers

Several theories attempt to define the evolutionary purpose of antlers amongst some masculine members of the deer family. Four of these theories are explained below.

Signal of male qualityBecause they are grown greatly by masculine deer, antlers are thought to serve as a intuitive cue signaling health and genetic high quality to woman deer. If this were true, females might determine the top quality of potential mates by evaluating their antlers. Current research supports this particular theory. However, variation in antler quality amongst individuals may not it is in a great predictor of adjustment success. To learn much more about antler advancement and theories on the objective of antlers, refer to the antlers chapter in Biology and also Management of White-tailed Deer (see additional information).

Weapon used to fight other malesDuring the breeding season, masculine deer use their antlers come fight and also establish dominance over other male deer. Masculine deer will frequently lock antlers and push one another to determine which separation, personal, instance is stronger, thus establishing a supremacy hierarchy between individual animals (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Male white-tailed deer frequently establish supremacy in the reproduction season through fighting with various other males to identify strength.

Display dominanceThe dimension of antlers on deer has actually been assumed to display age-related dominance between males there is no the males actually having actually to fight. If this were so, a dominance hierarchy can be established within the masculine segment of the herd there is no the hazard of major injury or death. However, existing research does no substantiate antler dimension correlating v dominance in between individual white-tailed deer.

Defense versus predatorsSome researchers have suggested that deer might use antlers to safeguard themselves versus predators, together antlers can inflict major injury. Back this theory may be true, the would mean that females are constantly defenseless and also that males are defenseless as soon as their antlers have actually shed and during the antler farming phase.

How antlers grow

Deer grow and shed antlers annually. Males typically begin growing a brand-new set that antlers in so late spring. Growth starts in ~ the pedicle, i m sorry is the antler farming base attached come the skull (see figure 2). Antler development is regulation by hormones, i beg your pardon are regulated by photoperiod (day length). The antler development cycle coincides with the breeding season, so that males have actually hardened antlers for fighting various other males, subsequently developing dominance and breeding privileges (Figure 5).

Growing day length synchronizes to a palliation in melatonin production, i m sorry initiates the hormone cycles responsible for antler growth. Throughout late spring and summer, antlers are equipped v a very rich blood supply and are spanned with a hairlike membrane generally known together velvet (Figure6). When “in velvet,” antlers are particularly vulnerable to injury, and also cuts or bruises suffered currently often an outcome in deformed antlers.

Growing antlers space high in water and also low in dry matter content. The composition of the dried matter section during this stage is 80 percent protein and also 20 percent ash (primarily calcium and also phosphorus). Through August, development slows and the antlers begin to mineralize, or harden. In so late August or beforehand September, development is completed and also blood ceases to circulation to the antlers. This procedure initiates dry of the velvet, which is climate sloughed or rubbed off, causing polished, difficult antlers throughout the reproduction season. The velvet shedding occurs rapidly, generally in much less than 24 hours. The velvet will loss off top top its own, yet the procedure is accelerated by rubbing antlers on small woody shrubs or even tall grass. Healthy males preserve their hardened antlers transparent the breeding season (Figure 7).

The ingredient of antlers change, as hardened antlers space high in dry matter and also low in water content. Dry matter content the hardened antlers is created of about 60 percent ash and also 40 percent protein. ~ the breeding season, cells begin to de-mineralize the bone between the pedicle and antler, leading to the antler’s connection with the skull come weaken and also the antler to loss off. Timing of antler-drop may vary, yet in an mean season, some males shed their antlers in so late December and also most have shed them by beforehand March. Once a deer sheds its antlers, brand-new growth start immediately, though visible antler expansion is sometimes not noticeable for several weeks. Melted antlers are often daunting to find in the woods due to the fact that they have actually a high protein contents and wealth of calcium phosphate and are quickly consumed by rodents.

Figure 5. White-tailed deer antler expansion cycle coincides with the breeding season therefore antlers deserve to be used as separation, personal, instance bucks develop dominance.

Figure 6. Masculine white-tailed deer through antlers in the velvet stage.

Figure 7. Throughout fall and also early winter after ~ velvet is shed, masculine white-tailed deer will have hardened antlers.

Reasons because that deformed antlers

White-tailed deer may thrive deformed antlers as a result of an injury. Leg, pedicle and velvet injuries deserve to all cause antler deformations. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, this antler deformations may be short-term or permanent. Nontypical antler expansion can be brought about by genetic predisposition to abnormal branching, i beg your pardon is typically seen top top both antlers.

Pedicle injuryAny injury to the pedicle may result in a deformed antler (Figure 8). Injuries to the pedicle regularly are a an outcome of fighting with various other males or accidents. Populaces with an abundance of enlarge males may have actually a greater proportion that pedicle injuries due to the fact that of the fighting that normally occurs in between older males. Major injuries to the pedicle can an outcome in antler deformations in continually years.

Figure 8. Antlers the are melted normally have actually a relatively flat surface at the basic (a), vice versa, antlers shed with piece of pedicle attached (b) will often result in injury to the pedicle, among three main reasons of deformed antlers.

Velvet injuryAs discussed previously, during the farming phase antlers are very soft and, therefore, vulnerable to injury. Velvet injuries can cause deformations in the hardened antler, including small points recognized as “kicker” or “sticker” points. Some velvet injuries may an outcome in one oddly bent antler resulted in by one injury throughout the velvet stage that to be able to preserve its blood supply and hardened into a sleek antler (Figure 9). Excessive velvet injuries may cause the breakage and subsequent lose of a key beam, point or entire antler. Males that experience such injuries frequently make a complete recovery the complying with year and grow a normal collection of antlers. However, these injuries can build infections, bring about potential wellness problems.

Figure 9. Velvet injuries can result in deformed hardened antlers.

Leg injuryAntler deformations can additionally be led to by foot injuries, which often result from deer-vehicle accidents. Front leg injuries coincide with antler deformation ~ above the very same side together the injury — a front left foot injury will impact the left antler. Rear leg injuries coincide v antler deformation top top the opposite next — a behind left leg injury will affect the appropriate antler. Depending upon the severity, injuries to the leg may result in deformations come the antler in consecutive years or the deer may make a full recovery. The biological mechanism managing this relationship in between leg injuries and also antler deformations is not totally understood but is believed to be linked with reallocating nutrients towards healing the foot injury, instead of antler growth.

Factors affecting antler size

The main factors affecting antler dimension of an individual white-tailed deer space age, nutrition and also genetics. Come learn an ext about just how these factors impact deer antler and body size, describe MU expansion publication G9480, Implementing high quality Deer administration on her Property.

AgeAs males mature, their antlers come to be heavier and better developed. Antler growth of male fawns, or “button bucks,” is typically noticeable at 4 to 5 months of age by the visibility of “buttons.” in ~ 1-1/2 years of period (yearlings), males thrive their first noticeable antlers, i m sorry can variety in dimension from spikes come 10 or more antler points. On average, males boost their antler size until 6-1/2 year of age, when antler growth is maximized (Figure 10).

Figure 10. This graph reflects the percent of best antler expansion that a masculine white-tailed deer averages at every age. Many males maximize your antler size at 6-1/2 years of age.

NutritionAntler growth and also casting is one energetically expensive task for white-tailed deer. Antlers reflect one individual’s nutrition, specifically protein and also energy levels. A distinction of 8 percent and 16 percent protein in a deer’s diet at 4 years of age can cause a 20-inch distinction in antler size. Although the results of mineral levels on antler size has not to be documented, calcium and also phosphorus level are well-known to be necessary to antler development. For extr information, refer to MU expansion publication G9487, Nutritional demands of White-Tailed Deer in gaianation.net.

GeneticsA white-tailed deer’s potential for antler development is controlled within its separation, personal, instance DNA, or genetics, although optimum nutrition is required to to express this genetic potential. A deer’s genetic potential is regulated by the genetic makeup of both that is parents and can affect antler shape, composition and size potential.

Managing deer by antler restrictions

Many landowners are coming to be interested in allowing more male deer on their land to with older age classes and express their genetic potential because that antler size. To accomplish these deer administration objectives, landowners, managers, biologists and also hunters regularly implement an antler suggest restriction into their administration plan. Often, these goals are enforced by state regulation or voluntarily harvest criteria established by landowners or hunters.

Most antler-based harvest restrictions incorporate at least one minimum antler criteria, together as number of antler points, spread, main beam length or antler score. The score of utilizing antler criteria together a system for identify harvest is to provide young males in the herd the chance to mature into older age classes. Come learn more about exactly how antler criteria have the right to be included into a deer administration program, refer to MU expansion publication G9480, Implementing top quality Deer monitoring on your Property.

Effects of culling male deer

Harvesting “management” or “cull” males is a common deer administration technique. “Culling” is regularly done to eliminate “inferior” antlered males indigenous the population in the expect of restricting the spread out of “inferior” genetics; however, controlling or manipulating deer genes in wild populations is basically impossible. Therefore, removing worse antlered males will certainly not adjust the herd’s genetics. However, in areas that need to alleviate deer density, “cull” males might be harvested to boost nutrition easily accessible to various other deer, consisting of males v “ideal” antlers.


Antlers are an amazing function of white-tailed deer. Landowners, hunters and also managers who understand the biology of antlers and the determinants that encourage their growth can an ext effectively control deer populaces on your property.

Additional information

Demarais, S., and also B. K. Strickland. 2011. Antlers. Pages 107-146 in D. G. Hewitt, editor. Biology and management that white-tailed deer. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Harmel, D. E., J. D. Williams, and W. E. Armstrong. 1989. Effects that genetics and nutrition top top antler development and body dimension of white-tailed deer.

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Federal aid Report series No. 26. Jobs W-56-D, W-76-R, W-109-R, and also W-14-C. Austin, TX: Texas Parks and also Wildlife Department.Photo creditsgaianation.net department of Conservation, Jason Sumners and Emily Flinn.