Why do deer shed their antlers as a part of the antler growth cycle?

Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers? (The Antler Growth Cycle)

We all know that antlers are a big deal in our game of bow hunting. They give us clues about a deer’s age, health, and size, making them a key part of our hunting strategy. But have you ever paused to ponder why deer shed their antlers? In this post, we’re going to dig into the antler growth cycle and shed some light on this incredible natural process.

Understanding the antler growth cycle can seriously up your hunting game. It gives you a deeper respect for deer and helps you make smarter hunting decisions. We’re going to cover everything from the hormonal shifts that start the shedding process to the nutrients needed for antler growth. So, if you’re ready to boost your hunting knowledge, let’s unravel the mysteries of the antler growth cycle.

Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?

The main reason bucks shed their antlers boils down to hormonal changes and less daylight, which signals the end of the breeding season, or the rut. When the rut wraps up, testosterone levels in the buck’s body drop, causing the pedicles (the bony bumps on the buck’s skull where the antlers grow) to reabsorb the antlers. This process is called “antler regression” or “casting,” and it’s what leads to the shedding process.

Deer Antler Terminology
Deer Antler Terminology

When Do Deer Shed Their Antlers?

During the casting process, the antlers loosen and eventually fall off. This usually kicks off in late December or early January and is typically done by late February or early March. Bucks help the process along by rubbing their antlers against trees or other objects. Once the antlers are shed, the pedicles start healing and getting ready for the next year’s growth. This is an annual process that happens to all bucks, but the timing can vary based on the deer’s age, health, genetics, and other factors.

One side of a shed antler with 7 points.
7-Point Single-Side Shed Antler

Shedding antlers is a natural and harmless process for deer. It’s also why shed hunting is a favorite pastime among deer hunters, as it gives them valuable insights into the size and health of the local deer population and helps scout areas where deer are likely to be found.

Shedding antlers also lets bucks conserve energy during the harsh winter months when food is scarce. The energy usually used to maintain the antlers is redirected to other areas of the body, like muscles and internal organs, helping the buck survive the winter.

The Antler Growth Cycle

The antler growth cycle is a yearly process where a buck grows, sheds, and regrows its antlers. Understanding this cycle is important for hunters, wildlife managers, and anyone interested in deer biology.

The antler growth cycle kicks off in spring when longer days trigger a rise in the buck’s testosterone levels. This hormone boost stimulates the pedicles to start growing new antlers, a process that takes several months to complete.

The Antler Growth Cycle from Spring, through Summer, Fall, and Winter each year.
The Antler Growth Cycle

During the summer, the antlers keep growing, and by fall, they’re fully developed and hardened, ready for the rut. The buck uses its antlers to compete for does and defend its territory from other bucks.

After the rut, usually in late December or early January, the antler growth cycle enters the next phase, known as antler regression or casting. Decreasing testosterone levels cause the pedicles to reabsorb the antlers, leading to the shedding phase of the cycle.

Once the antlers are shed, the pedicles start healing and getting ready for the next year’s growth. This cycle repeats year after year.

Factors Influencing Antler Growth

Antler growth rates can vary based on several factors, including the deer’s age, genetics, nutrition, and overall health. Generally, younger bucks tend to have faster antler growth than older bucks. Antlers can grow about an inch per day during the peak growth phase, which usually happens from July to mid-August.

This period is known as the “velvet stage,” when the antler is covered in a soft, fuzzy tissue called velvet. This velvet supplies blood and nourishment to the growing antler. As the antler hardens, the velvet dries up and falls off, or the deer rubs it off, revealing the hard bone structure underneath. This typically happens in late August or early September.

Bucks in velvet

Bucks with access to high-quality food and in good health usually have faster antler growth than malnourished or unhealthy bucks. Nutrition plays a significant role in antler growth.

Bucks maximize their antler growth around the age of 6 1/2 years old. This varies from region to region, but from this age onwards, you can expect the size of the antlers on a mature buck to stagnate and slow their growth.


Bucks shed their antlers as part of the normal antler growth cycle, and it’s part of a buck’s growth and maturation process. Bucks will lose their antlers at different times too. It’s common to see deer with antlers on one side for days or even weeks after shedding one of their antlers. This cycle continues year after year throughout a mature buck’s life. Not all deer shed their antlers. Most will go through this process, but some do not, and this is perfectly normal too. The region a deer lives in, their level of nutrition, and other factors play a role. This is why bucks shed their antlers.


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