Antler growth is a complex process driven by hormones and photoperiod (day length). Antler tissue is the fastest growing tissue known to man. It has the capacity to grow an inch or more per day. Annually, antler growth begins when the days are noticeably lengthening. Antlers grow from the tip and contain thousands of blood vessels.
PGC Photo: Jacob Dingel
As the summer progresses and day length begins to decrease, testosterone production increases. This triggers mineralization or hardening of the antlers. The soft tissue is transformed directly into bone by the depositing of minerals within the cartilage matrix through the extensive capillary network-hardening the antlers from the base to the tip. Antler-hardening takes about a month starting in mid-July and ending in mid-August. Then, the velvet dries up and gets rubbed off.
After the breeding season, testosterone levels drop off and antlers are shed in late winter/early spring. Then, the process starts all over again. Natural variation, general health (which relates to nutrition), and even the buck’s birth date contribute to the timing of antler drop which occurs any time from December through March.
By; Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section
PA Game Commission