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Deer Antler Terminology in a Nutshell

Anyone who has hunted for deer in the past knows the importance of antler discussion. One of the ways to become more familiar with deer hunting is to learn the ins and outs of antler terminology. 

Deer antlers are surprisingly complex, and hunters have developed specific terms to apply to the different parts of the antler. By learning deer antler terminology, you’ll be able to discuss these trophies with ease and confidence. 

deer with antlers

What Are Antlers?

These bony protuberances develop on the frontal pedicle—the base from which the antlers grow. Antlers most typically are found on male deer, but some female deer grow antlers, especially those who have difficulty regulating the hormone testosterone, or female caribou. 

Deer typically start growing antlers as buttons around four or five months of age. Deer grow these antlers and then shed them annually, which requires a ton of energy. 

The size and formation of deer antlers depend on a lot of different factors, such as age, nutrients, and genetics. The condition of a fawn’s mother and its date of birth also play a large part in how a deer’s antlers appear. 

Basic Antler Terminology

The next time you’re hanging shed antlers, test yourself on your antler knowledge by naming each part of the antler as you go. Here are some more terms and definitions so you can get a firm grasp of antler anatomy:

  • Beam – Central stem of the antler.
  • Burr – Bony rim of the pedicle.
  • Brow Tine – The point at which the first antler branches off.
  • Bay Tine – The second branching-off point.
  • Tray Tine – The third branching-off mark.
  • Surroyal Tine – Fourth branch on a separate tine of a deer’s antler.
  • Fork – End of the antler that forks out into two tines.
  • Palm – Usually used to discuss moose, this refers to the end of the antler that spreads out, resembling a human hand.
  • Crown – The top tine on the deer’s antlers.

These definitions explain the layout of deer antlers. Some other terms used to describe the state of the antlers include:

  • Rack – This term refers to the complete set of antlers; racks are usually typical or non-typical.
  • Abnormal tine – This is a tine that grows off another tine instead of off the main beam.
  • Typical – This adjective refers to a rack that has all its tines growing upward with no abnormal tines. 
  • Non-typical – Refers to a rack that has one or more abnormal tines, or tines that grow off another tine instead of the existing beam.  
  • Drop tine – This phrase describes a tine that is growing at a downward angle. 
  • Kicker point – An abnormal tine that grows from the burr, near the pedicle. 

Why Do Deer Grow Antlers?

There are some discrepancies regarding the purpose of antlers. Some wildlife biologists believe that female deer evaluate a buck’s antlers to assess whether he would be a good potential mate.

Since only the males typically grow antlers, many believe they are mainly used in territorial battles between bucks. During mating season, male deer lock antlers and push each other to establish dominance. 

This theory has the most scientific evidence to back it up. Still, other approaches believe that deer grow antlers to assert dominance without fighting and that they use their antlers to protect themselves from predators. 

How Do Antlers Grow?

Males usually begin growing antlers in the late spring. They start from the pedicles, and the hormonal output of the deer often regulates the rate at which they grow. The hormones, in turn, are influenced by the amount of daylight, known as photoperiod. 

The increasing amount of daylight corresponds with decreased melatonin levels, which, in turn, trigger a surge of hormones in the young deer, inciting antler growth. 

In this way, male deer have hardened antlers by the time mating season rolls around, so they can assert their dominance on the breeding grounds. 

deer antler velvet

What Is Antler Velvet?

As the young antlers are growing throughout the late spring and summer, these bony protuberances have a potent blood supply to help with growth and are covered with a hair-like substance called velvet.

By late summer or early fall, the blood supply ceases to enrich the antlers so thoroughly, and the antlers harden, which means the buck is ready for business. 

They have to get rid of the velvet as well, which means rubbing their newly hardened antlers against rocks, tree trunks, and even brush. However, the velvet does fall off on its own if left untouched, and the process is rapid, only taking 24 hours. 

A healthy male deer retains his antlers throughout the breeding season.

Antler Deformations

Sometimes you see a buck with weird deer antlers, and wonder how they got that way. Most likely, the buck suffered an injury to the antlers themselves or to the pedicles. Leg injuries can also cause deformation in antlers. 

During the breeding season, older male deer fight a lot with their antlers. This sometimes results in an injury to the pedicle, which can later result in an abnormal tine or non-typical rack. 

When deer are growing their antlers, these racks are very vulnerable. During this growth period, antlers consist of mostly water - 80% - and a very low solid matter content - 20%. When in this stage, because of their high water content, antlers are vulnerable and can be injured or marred, resulting in deformed antlers. An injury can cause the tines to harden prematurely, creating a non-typical rack. 

Although deer usually recover from wounds during this growth stage, sometimes severe injuries to the antlers in this period can lead to permanent physical deformations.

The relationship between a leg injury and antler deformation is not widely understood, but there have been proven correlations between the two. When a deer is injured in the legs, usually due to a vehicle accident, the antler on whichever side is damaged grows out to be deformed. 

There isn’t a clear cause-and-effect between these two, but scientists speculate that the nutrients that usually would go to the growing antler are relocated to help mend the leg.

shed antlers

Final Thoughts

Deer antlers, their growth, and their formation make a fascinating subject for hunters and non-hunters. Many hunters have a few racks hanging on their walls, but some of these same hunters may not know the basic terminology of deer antlers. 

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