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Does It Hurt When Deer Shed Antlers? (Weird Deer Biology)

When shedding their antlers, deer do not feel pain. There will be bleeding from the exposed area on which the antlers were attached but this is not believed to be painful to the animal.

antlers

Deer grow antlers annually to attract mates and fight for the affection of a female. But after mating season, the antlers are shed.

The process of shedding the antlers occurs during the late fall as it approaches the early winter. Within the winter period, the deer does not possess the antlers, which acts as an advantage because the antlers can cause deer to get caught in shrubs and fences.

Does it Hurt when Deer Shed their Antlers?

Shedding antlers is a natural process for deer. It is not believed that they feel pain because the antlers aren’t being torn from the deer’s head.

Rather, the antlers fall out naturally, meaning the body is prepared for this process.

Before the antlers are shed, pain sensation is cut-off to the bones, so it would be akin to fingernails for humans.

It may appear painful and bloody when you see deer shedding their antlers, but the animal itself doesn’t seem to be going through too much pain. From our observations, then, it’s likely that the animal is still quite comfortable throughout the whole process.

Read More: Can Deer Feel Pain?

Why do Deer Shed their Antlers?

Deer shed their antlers because their use is done. The antlers are mostly used to attract females and fight off other males during rut.

Once mating season comes to an end deer shed of their antlers. This is because they are no longer useful to them. Deer use their antlers to fight other males and establish dominance. Buck battle over does and territories to get a chance to mate.

Deer also shed the antlers because of the high energy used to maintain them. Unlike cow horns that are made of the same material as hair, deer antlers are made of bone and require energy to continuously maintain them on their head.

This is very disadvantageous during winter when food is scarce and the deer needs every little ounce of energy to survive.

Also, since antlers grow yearly, deer lose their antlers to make room for a new set. After testosterone levels drop the calcium connecting antlers to the skull weakens and the antlers drop of one at a time. 

Most of the time, growth begins immediately after a scab forms on the area.

Deer rutting
Deer use their antlers for rutting and to attract a mate, and shed them after mating season

Do all Deer Shed Antlers?

All deer shed their antlers yearly. This is to make space for a new set of antlers later the next year.

Deer shed their antlers around winter after mating season. Then their testosterone levels drop and the calcium holding the antlers in place on the skull weaken. This causes the antlers to loosen and drop off one at a time.

Deer that don’t shed their antlers are often referred to us stags. They do not shed their antlers because of biological issues.

This may be caused by some kind of injury or deformity in the testicles. The testicles are responsible for the production and regulation of testosterone. If they have a problem the buck is most likely to experience issues with the growth and shedding of antlers.

Do all Deer Grow Antlers?

In most species, only male deer grow antlers. However, both male and female Caribou grow antlers.

Normally only male deer grow antlers. Antlers are a sign of dominance in male deer and a large set of antlers means that the male is healthy and strong.

They use their antlers to fight off other males so that they can earn the right to mate. The antlers are also especially helpful to defend the animal against predators.

A female that grows antlers is most likely experiencing hormonal imbalances. The female is most likely having a hard time trying to control testosterone levels in her body. Caribou however grow a set of antlers on both males and females.

Porcupine Caribou
Both male and female caribou can grow antlers

Read More: Deer vs Caribou Differences Explained

When do Deer Shed their Antlers? 

Deer shed their antlers after mating season. A drop in testosterone levels causes the antlers to loosen are fall off.

Most Deer shed off their antlers during the winter period. Shedding of the antlers may occur from early December or as late as March on some species. It all depends on where the deer lives and the time mating season comes to an end.

The antlers are especially helpful when sparring against other males. With testosterone levels getting high, male deer often get into fights. This is to establish dominance and protect their territories.

The most dominant male has rights to mate with most females in their territory.

How Deer Grow Antlers?

Deer regrow their antlers by using their blood to transport minerals like calcium to their antlers, which are made from bone. Antlers take about five months to grow to full-size.

During casting, which is the term used to refer to the act of deer shedding their antlers, the blood continues to flow from the wound for a short period before it eventually stops and the area films over. 

Growth begins immediately after a scab forms but is usually slow during these first stages.

The new antlers that grow on the deer start with a velvet skin coating. The skin is named after the color it resembles. This color indicates that there is an efficient supply of blood to the area.

Blood acts as a means of transport to supply the required minerals to the area where the antlers are growing.

The growing antlers take a period of four to five months to reach full maturity. Upon reaching its maturity, the antlers form a bony ring and harden themselves at the base.

The hardening results in the stoppage of the blood flow through the growing area hence ending the growth cycle.

The velvet then dries up and falls off. It is common to see deer walking around with a piece of skin hanging from their antlers. 

Deer young antler velvet
Deer antler grow back over a period of around five months, coated in a temporary layer of velvet

How do Deer Shed their Antlers?

Deer shed their antler using specialized cells called osteoclasts, which become activated by the drop in testosterone level at the end of mating season. These special cells eat up the pedicle, creating a weak spot on the deer antlers. With time, the antlers fell off naturally.

The male Deer appears to drop their testosterone levels after the rut, during the mating season. 

The process of shedding the antlers occurs during the late fall as it approaches the early winter. Within the winter period, the deer does not possess the antlers. The antlers start growing during late spring.

During casting, the blood from the wound continues to flow for a short period before it eventually stops and the area films over.  In most deer, the growth usually takes place during the summer season before reaching late spring.

The new antlers that grow on the deer start with a velvet color noted immediately as the process starts. The color indicates that there is an efficient supply of nutrients and vitamins in the growing area. Blood acts as a means of transport to supply the minerals where the antlers are growing.

The growing antlers take a period of four to five months to reach their maturity. Upon reaching its entirety, the antlers acquire full potential where they form a bony ring, hardening themselves at the base.

The hardening resides in the stoppage of the blood flow through the growing area hence ending the ever-increasing cycle. Moreover, the velvet coat of the antlers is shed off.

Does it Hurt when Deer Grow their Antlers?

There may be some growing pain when antlers are coming up but it is not believed to be a significant problem for the animal.

When growing, deer antlers are covered with a skin called velvet. The work of the velvet is to supply the growing antlers with nutrients. The velvet itself has nerves and is sensitive to damage.

Antlers grow as bones. Bones have nerve endings in them and are sensitive to pending and damage. When growing the deer feels the antlers and is able to know how big they are. 

The nerves also help the deer feel the forest as its transverses in it which prevents injury from hitting trees and bushes.

When fully developed, the velvet dries and falls off. The antlers during this stage have hardened and all blood supply to the tips has been blocked. This leaves the antlers as dead bone matter on the head of the deer.

Because no nerve endings are present in the developed antlers, deer do not feel pain even when a point in the antlers is clipped away.

Conclusion

Shedding antlers does not hurt a deer. It’s a natural process that the body prepares for and makes happen. There are several bodily functions in the deer that decrease the chances of pain occurring during the shedding process.

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