deer shedding velvet off antlers

When, Why, and How Deer Shed Velvet Antlers

Deer antler velvet shedding is one of the most interesting parts about whitetail deer.

Most of us picture bucks as these extremely masculine animals with hardened antlers that are used for fighting and impressing does.

So imagining this masculine buck with fuzzy velvet antlers instead can be a pretty funny sight.

But there’s a rhyme and reason as to why bucks grow velvet antlers only to shed the velvet off.

So whether you want to harvest a buck before it sheds its velvet or you just want to learn more about deer shedding velvet you’re in the right place!

Let’s dive in.

What is Deer Antler Velvet?

Deer antler velvet is a soft, fuzzy-looking substance made of cartilage that surrounds a bucks antlers during its growth stage.  It’s nicknamed velvet due to its texture which resembles the velvet fabric. This cartilage helps oxygen-rich blood reach the antlers to provide nourishment for growth.

velvet-buck

Why do Deer Need Velvet Antlers?

To put it simply, deer use velvet to grow their antlers. The antlers underneath the velvet start out as cartilage; therefore, they need oxygen supplied from the velvet to grow.

The antlers underneath use the flow of the blood-rich oxygen in the velvet to strengthen and calcify into bone.

Velvet antlers start growing during the spring as a jolt of hormones starts the process off. The hormones receive a signal from the longer daylight hours to kick-start their growth.

yearling button buck with velvet antlers

All deer will start each antler growth period as a button buck. So it’s nothing to worry about if you see a large-bodied deer with velvety button sized antlers during this time.

The growth stage of the velvet antlers usually lasts between 90 to 150 days, depending on factors related to the individual deer.

Antlers are the fastest growing bone out of any mammal as they can grow from 1/4-1.0 inch per day.

But this rate isn’t consistent throughout the antler growth period as it depends on a lot of different factors.

There have been cases where extremely healthy deer have experienced faster than 1 inch per day growth.

On the other hand, an injured or really young deer can experience antler growth at less than 1/4 inch per day.

Testosterone, diet, and length of daylight hours all play a huge part in this. Long daylight hours in the spring triggers an increase in testosterone which results in increased neck and antler growth.

Velvet antlers are equipped with tiny hairs that improve the deer’s sensory function and heat regulation throughout the antlers.

deer antler velvet up close

The improved sensory function helps gives them more feeling in the antlers so they can easily navigate through thick buck bedding areas without getting stuck or damaging their antlers.

Hopefully, all of this breaks the common misconception that the velvet’s only purpose is to serve as protection from fighting other deer.

Going through this phase before they shed their velvet allows the antlers to get to a point of being able to withstand another breeding season of fighting off other bucks and proving dominance.

Why do Deer Shed their Velvet?

Of course, all mammals experience different growth stages and changes for various reasons.

Deer are no different with the reasons they start shedding their velvet.

Discomfort from Velvet

Why do deer shed velvet from their antlers?

The main reason deer rub the velvet off their antlers is when they begin to feel discomfort.

At this point, the antlers are fully grown and the bone underneath is dead, proving the velvet unnecessary.

deer-antler-velvet-shedding2

The blood supply to the velvet is cut off which makes the velvet antlers dry and harden. This hardened velvet creates an uncomfortable itch since it has a tighter grip on the antlers underneath.

When they feel this itch, deer start rubbing trees and other rough surfaces to remove the velvet.

The friction between these surfaces helps remove the bloody velvet and leaves the polished and hardened antlers underneath.

Mark Territory

All male deer have scent glands on their foreheads that are used to spread their scent and communicate to other deer that they’re in the area.

This gland is called the preorbital gland and it’s located right next to a deer’s eyes.

deer preorbital gland

The preorbital gland’s scent means different things depending on the time of year.

For example, the scent will be a lot stronger during the rut and will alert female deer that they are ready to breed.

When bucks rub their antlers against trees to remove velvet, this gland on their forehead touches nearby brush and spreads this scent.

buck rubbing velvet and scent gland on tree

The scent emitted during velvet antler shedding is usually not a breeding scent; however, it still communicates testosterone levels among other things.

Like most mammals, the size of these glands varies making the males with prominent glands more suitable mates for multiple female deer.

Strengthen Neck Muscles

Strong neck muscles are a great help for bucks once their summer bachelor groups break up and they begin fighting.

I don’t think the primary reason deer rub trees is to strengthen neck muscles, but it’s certainly an added benefit of them rubbing the velvet off their antlers.

Male deer with stronger neck muscles are some of the most beautiful animals in the woods.

whitetail-strong-neck-muscles

Deer like this are highly sought after trophies and accomplishments if you can manage to hang one on the wall.

When do Deer Shed Velvet?

Deer shed velvet antlers is an annual event usually occurring in late summer or early fall.

In most southern states, deer shed velvet off their antlers in mid-August through early September. 

But the exact timing varies among species, with timing influenced by things like genetics, nutrition, and the deer’s overall health.

How long does it take to Shed Velvet?

Deer usually shed their velvet in a pretty short period of time, ranging from a few hours all the way up to a week.

Factors like antler mass and the discomfort level caused by the itchy velvet influence how fast a deer decides to shed its velvet.

If the discomfort level isn’t as high then the velvet shedding process can be very gradual. In these cases, deer make take over a week to shed their velvet.

In most circumstances it takes a few hours up to a week for a deer to shed its velvet.

Final Thoughts

Like most things deer-related, the details surrounding velvet antler shedding varies from deer to deer and area to area. But why they shed their antlers stays mostly the same. 

Deer are just trying to get comfortable so they relieve themselves of any inconvenience the velvet causes. They’re also need to have hardened antlers prior to the rut so they can fight off other bucks and look good for ladies.

I hope this article helped you understand the process of velvet antler shedding. If you have any unanswered questions, take a look at the FAQs below or reach out on one of my socials linked in the footer!

FAQs

Is Shedding Velvet Painful for Deer?

In short, shedding velvet is not a painful process for deer. It can be compared to the feeling of peeling a scab. So shedding velvet should be considered uncomforable but not painful.

Why do Some Deer not Lose their Velvet?

Bucks that do not lose their velvet suffer from Cryptorchidism. This causes bucks to have issues with their testosterone production which results in incomplete antler growth and eliminates the need to shed velvet from their antlers.

Why do Antlers Bleed when Shedding Velvet?

Deer bleed when shedding velvet becuase they have to rub their velvet antlers against trees in order to remove the velvet. This process causes blood vessels in the velvet to break which causes bleeding.

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