January through February is a time for enjoying the subtlest natural pleasures. Late winter lacks the decoration of spring’s wild flowers and bird calls, summer’s cicadas and fire flies, and autumn’s opulence and color. It is a time to tie trout flies from the feathers of April turkey and October grouse, to enjoy hot fires and apple cider (perhaps with a jigger’s worth of spiced rum). Late winter is the best time for the outdoorsman to consider the way of things with little wild distraction. But with wild things there is always some sort of distraction.
Searching for shed deer antlers along the fields and forests of wild Carolina is as great a distraction as there is. To find one of those calcium-rich casts rivals even the enthusiasm of finding a thoughtfully placed Easter egg as a child. But instead of wondering what is within a plastic shell, your imagination is stirred more deeply as you hold in your hand a tangible piece of wildness. Where is he now? And even more compelling, where was he when you were waiting for him with frozen toes from October through December? In short, that shed deer antler leads to some compelling questions, especially to those of us who are infected with buck fever as soon as the sourwoods turn red in early September.
A buck sheds his antlers each year in late January to mid February and a new set begins to grow immediately. As the antlers grow throughout the summer they are covered with short hairs , appropriately called velvet. During the summer growth, the antlers have the consistency of a carrot, fully innervated, with blood flow, nerve endings and all. Changes in the amount of sunlight, or photoperiod, govern the bucks’ testosterone levels, which in turn govern the antler cycle. Actively growing deer antlers are the only regenerative tissue known to generate hair follicles and researchers are presently untangling that peculiar biological secret, which is welcome news to many men and women frustrated over hair loss.
The antler casts are full of protein and calcium phosphate and are thus relished by squirrels and other rodents, so don’t wait too long to go looking for them! A buck may drop his antlers at any place, but your best chance of actually finding an antler shed are in fields, power lines or other open areas since sheds are more difficult to see among the branches and leaves that litter the forest floor. Good luck!
Hunter S. Bridges