Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Antlers For Your Valentine

What makes a female Master Naturalist happy at Valentines Day?  Finding whitetail deer sheds makes a very memorable and inexpensive gift, especially when she finds them by herself.  You may be thinking that this is a cheap trick, but actually a set of high quality sheds may sell for thousands of dollars. *

The Wild Mammals of Missouri ** describes antler growth which starts around April as the increasing hours of daylight stimulate the pituitary gland.  The initial buds are covered with soft skin and short hair, referred to as "velvet", which covers the antlers as they grow to full size by early fall.

Testosterone surges at the beginning of the rut or breeding season.  The blood supply to the antlers is cut off, and the velvet starts to shed.  Bucks finish the grooming process to get ready to mate, rubbing off the last of the velvet and polishing the antlers on small trees, much like a teenage boy standing in front of the mirror before prom.  Interestingly, the sight of buck rubs on saplings has the same testosterone-laden effect on fully grown male hunters of deer.

In December, decreasing testosterone levels lead to reabsorption of the bone at the antler base and eventual shedding.  The best time to find sheds is January and February, before they are covered with the new plant growth of spring.  It is important to get them before rabbits, squirrels and other rodents find them as they will chew them up for their minerals and protein.  "Up to 1/2 of a whitetail antler cast in an oak forest in the Midwest can be consumed by calcium-craving squirrels in a three-day period." *

Consider hunting antler sheds for your wife's next Valentines Day.  You will be happy you did, save a lot of money, and she might enjoy it too.  Taking her to dinner might help too.

*  For details on the antler industry go to Northamericanwhitetail.com
** The Wild Mammals of Missouri, Schwartz and Schwartz, University of Missouri Press and Missouri Department of Conservation, 1981.

Whitetail facts at Wikipedia,

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