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What's so intriguing about deer antlers?

By Staff
Nov. 2, 2001
To the uninitiated, these weird statements may sound like commentary on Halloween costumes. After all, they begin to pop up in conversation about this time each fall. But they are not descriptions of bogus goblins and ghosts. In fact they are the language of deer hunters who rate trophy bucks by the dimensions and characteristics of their antlers.
A buck's antlers tell a story about the deer. Remember, a deer doesn't have horns, which adorn the heads of cattle, wild sheep and other animals and come one set to a lifetime. Instead, the deer's replaceable ones, a new set each year, are actually antlers. The story they tell is not so simple as counting the points and allowing as how that is the age of the deer. That doesn't wash. A buck can have six or eight points when only 2 years old.
Two small, straight antlers that measure only 4 inches or so are typical on bucks born in the spring of that year. In its second winter, the buck could have 4 or 6 points, sometimes more. What determines antler growth is age, health, food supply and genetics.
Prime Years
A healthy buck 5 or 6 years old with genes for large antlers and a nutritious environment is likely to have long and heavy antlers. The most common rack on a mature whitetail buck has 8 total points counting the brow tines, the projections near the skull that are also referred to as eye guards.
A deer's food intake is used more for growth and development than to grow antlers while it is young. And very old deer, 7 or 8 and up, often decline in health because of worn teeth, losing battles with younger and stronger bucks and other factors. Therefore food intake and utilization by older bucks can be affected and antler development may suffer.
Non-typical deer antlers are those with points that vary from the usual two main beams with points rising upward from each beam. These are highly prized by many hunters and are scored in a separate category.
Our early ancestors used deer antlers for making tools and adornments. Knife handles, light fixtures and other works of art are still created from the bone-like structures. But they are mainly appreciated as trophies that remind the hunter of the hunt and showcase the beauty of a very beautiful creature.
There are organizations that have established measurement standards for grading deer antlers. The record book organizations Boone and Crockett Club, Buckmasters and Pope and Young exist much more to describe and honor the top antlers than to serve as simply a contest for hunters.
Some people are opposed to hunting for just the antler trophy. Only disreputable persons, not to be confused with true hunters, would stoop to this. We deer hunters admire the big antlers, and most of us hunt the big ones. But it is rare, and frowned upon by sportsmen and women, for someone to waste the meat of any deer trophy or not.
Admiring the Creature
The Meridian Star and several other businesses sponsor a contest for deer hunters that generates much excitement and trophy talk throughout the area. But one would have a hard time finding one of the winners who would trade the hunting experience, the lifetime memories and the buck's trophy antlers for the prize winnings. The big payoff for the contest is to showcase and preserve exceptional specimens that otherwise would never be seen and appreciated by most hunters and non-hunters alike.
Last year's Meridian Star Big Buck Bounty winners enjoyed a presentation evening where the winning mounts were displayed for all the hunters and visitors to admire and enjoy. Every mount had its special features that intrigued those who appreciate this wonderful game animal.
Deer hunters have a lasting trophy to brag about when an outstanding deer is bagged. And a great deal of skill and effort is usually required of those who take the big ones. But beyond the fun of competition, a trophy rack is all about the deer.