An interesting anomaly seems to be occurring this year with the deer herd in the form of bucks bouncing around in mid February still wearing head gear.
Normally, bucks will have shed their antlers by this time, making way for next year’s set. It is unusual to see antlers on a deer in mid to late February, but that is exactly what outdoorsmen are reporting and many are attributing it to the warmer than normal temperatures we’ve enjoyed this winter.
I myself saw a nice, high, 6-point behind the house the other day, and my old hunting chum Mike Fenoff stumbled across a dead 8-pointer in Elizabethtown that was showing no sign of shedding its antlers.
“These antlers were not loose at all,” Mike said. “I picked him up by them.”
Senior DEC Wildlife Biologist Ed Reed said that while unusual, a buck still having its horns this time of year is not unheard of. And, he said the milder than normal winter we’ve experienced probably has little to do with the fact that some deer have yet to drop their antlers.
“I really don’t think the weather has had any affect, it is the length of the daylight and a drop in testosterone following the rut that controls it,” Reed said.
The way that daylight affects antler growth is complicated. But, to simplify things, the shorter the day length, the less testosterone produced by a deer.
That’s because the length of a day from sun up to sun down is sensed by a deer’s eyes, which controls the release of different hormones. One of those hormones controls testosterone.
So, when the days grow shorter in late fall, testosterone levels drop causing a layer of cells between the antler base and the point where it mounts to the head — called the pedicle — to weaken. Eventually, both antlers fall off, a process that normally takes place over the course of a couple weeks.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org