A reader is mystified. Iain Watson explains.
A: The deer population is supposed to be growing fast. So why do I never find cast antlers during my stalking forays into the woods? Finding deer antlers is a mystery to me. Where should I be looking for them?
A: Finding antlers is not as easy as you might think. For a start, they’re hard to spot because they are very camouflaged and look very much like a dead branch. In addition, although the deer population is growing, there are not that many bucks or stags in every hundred acres. A careful search of 100 acres of woodland can take a long time and result in no discoveries. (Read what makes a stag a Royal, an Imperial or a Monarch.)
Even in the park and with some big red stags among the herd you’ll have a job finding antlers.
How to get a better chance of finding antlers
You can give yourself an increased likelihood of finding antlers by looking in places where deer jump fences or ditches. That is where they may jar them loose. Or you could look at where stags squeeze under a low branch.
When an antler is ready to drop, pushed off by the new growth from below, any slight knock or jar can make it fall.
Roe cast their antlers in November/December and our other deer in March/May or, particularly in the case of muntjac, even later. The problem with muntjac is that vegetation is growing fast and soon conceals them. Cast antlers are gnawed by deer and other animals – including dogs – for the calcium they contain, but it takes a long time for them to disappear completely.
(Read our piece on how to make an antler handle knive.)
When does a muntjac buck shed its antlers?
Most adult muntjac bucks shed their antlers from late spring to midsummer, though on rare occasions I have known them to shed as early as mid-March. After growing new antlers during the summer, a buck will normally be out of velvet and in hard antler by mid-August. The cycle is complicated by the fact that muntjac can be born at any time of the year. Males usually develop pedicles at five months and grow their first set of antlers four or five months after that. Bucks eventually synchronise antler cast to midsummer, so the age at which a buck casts his first antlers can be between 14 months and two years. (Read more about muntjac deer here.)
Do deer antlers heal after injury?
Antlers have a self-healing capacity when in velvet but after the velvet is removed the external repair process stops. However research suggests that although the outer layer of antler tissue does not self-heal after removal of the velvet, it may be modified by the animal through polishing from fraying activity or rubbing.
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.