Cosmopolitan and easily recognizable, you know white-tailed deer (also called whitetail deer) for their chestnut brown fur, bright white flag of a tail and characteristic pointed antlers on males. Though they're far from the only animals with antlers in North America – the United States alone also features mule deer, elk and moose – white-tailed deer are certainly the most widespread and successful of the antlered animals. All adult male deer, also known as bucks, sport a pair of antlers which they shed and regrow in a yearly cycle.
Whitetail Deer Antler Growth Cycle
The amount of daylight and the season dictate when male white-tailed deer shed and grow their antlers. They slowly begin to grow antlers in the springtime, with the growth rate rapidly increasing as summer arrives. Older bucks can grow as much as two inches of antler each week in the summer! A soft velvet layer coats the antlers to protect them and supply them with blood to help them grow.
As fall begins, the antlers fully harden, and the velvet dries up and falls off just in time for the breeding season. As the breeding season ends in the winter, the length of daylight shortens and the buck's testosterone levels decrease. With this decrease comes a deterioration of the connection between the antler and the pedicel – the base attaching the antler to the skull. The antlers eventually fall, or shed, as the connection weakens.
When Do Whitetail Deer Shed Their Antlers?
The process of shedding occurs in the wintertime. However, because the shedding process occurs as a result of the length of daylight, the exact period that a buck sheds his antlers varies a bit based on the region he lives in. For example, white-tailed deer living in Georgia shed their antlers earlier than bucks living in New York.
Antler Shedding in the Eastern United States
Bucks in the southeastern United States begin shedding their antlers in January and February. This process sometimes extends into April as well. Antler shedding begins slightly later in the northeast, with bucks shedding their antlers sometime in mid-February through the month of March.
Antler Shedding in the Western United States
The antler shedding season in the northwest has a relatively wide range. For example, bucks in Oregon shed their antlers beginning in December but extending to the end of March. The northwest also sees antler shedding from elk, which begin to drop their antlers in late February through April.
In the southwest United States, antler shedding begins slightly earlier. For example, bucks in Texas typically lose their antlers in January and February.
Antler Shedding in Mexico
White-tailed deer range throughout much of North America, including southern Canada, the United States and south into Mexico. One study found that bucks began shedding their antlers as early as November in southeast Mexico, with newly-shedded bucks spotted through January.
Can You Legally Collect Shed Antlers?
Before you hop outdoors to begin collecting shed antlers, you should first consult local laws regarding the practice. Much of the legality revolving around shed collecting centers on where you live and where you are collecting the antlers. In some regions you can legally collect deer antlers from a number of locations, in other regions you face fines for collecting antlers from protected areas!
For example, it is illegal for you to collect shed antlers, or anything else for that matter, from any National Park, monument, recreation area or preserve. In New Mexico, collecting deer antlers on National Park land will result in a $200 fine, with an additional $50 for each antler in your possession. However, you can legally collect antlers from public lands during certain shed seasons in specific states or regions such as Wyoming and Oregon.
- Mississippi State University: Antler Growth Cycle
- Hunting Heart: When Do Deer Shed Their Antlers in Georgia?
- Syracuse.com: Hunting for Shed Deer Antlers a Great Way to Get Outdoors
- Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife: Responsible Shed Hunting
- Texas Agricultural Extension Service - Wildlife Management Handbook: Conservation and Management of the White-Tailed Deer
- European Journal of Wildlife Research: Seasonal Antler Cycle in White-Tailed Deer
- Santa Fe New Mexican: National Park Service Warns of Fines for Removing Antlers
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.