The reward comes in many forms. Our reward is just bearing witness to the joys that abound. Unless Mother Nature really dislikes you cursing you with allergies, green grass growing, yellow flowers blooming, and fuzzy buds busting are the tangible rewards for the flora community and a visual jackpot for us. Bluebirds singing, little frogs peeping, and antlers bursting is a feast for the ears.
Wait a minute. Antlers…bursting…ears. Antlers don’t make any noise. Geesh – you think as a biologist we would know something about biology. Well, we do. Antler tissue is the fastest growing tissue known to man having the capacity to grow an inch or more per day. If that doesn’t make a sound, someone isn’t listening.
Antlers captivate the masses whether you’re a hunter or not. But I don’t think anyone can put a finger on exactly why the human race is so fascinated with them. Perhaps on some subconscious level we recognize and marvel at the complex process driven by hormones and photoperiod (day length) which uniquely manifests itself year after year for an individual.
Or maybe it’s just because they are cool. Either way, antler growth begins when the days are lengthening, between the spring equinox and the summer solstice every year. So things are already well underway. Like a tree, antlers grow from the tip and are full of thousands of blood vessels.
As the summer progresses, spring time’s rush to get everything done before Mother Nature’s mood turns again begins to wane. Our days become shorter and there is almost a palpable exhale. This is when testosterone production increases for bucks sending the message to those crazy bones to slow down. The cartilage matrix with its extensive capillary network starts to transform directly into bone by the depositing of minerals – hardening the antlers from the base to the tip. Antler-hardening takes about a month starting in mid-July and ending in mid-August. After this, there is a great unveiling as velvet dries up and is rubbed off.
Enjoy the most wonderful time of the year because it won’t be long before those testosterone levels drop off again and antlers are shed. A spring and summer’s worth of happiness cast off as we get ready to endure our annual winter punishment.
-Jeannine Fleegle, Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section
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