Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on April 17, 2012


April column

Editor’s note: One week each month we will run the Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a question for future posts can e-mail it to


Q. – I have noticed that some bucks have substantially more antler growth than others during the initial growing period. Could you tell me when exactly bucks begin growing their antlers and why the disparity in the amount of growth?

T. B. – Farmington, ME

 A. – You are correct that there is indeed a disparity betwixt individual bucks as they start growing their antlers. The chief logic for this discrepancy stems from the post winter condition of individual animals. Before any kind of energy can be channeled into growing antlers, the buck’s chemistry must first take care of replenishing his body’s needs. If a buck enters winter in relatively sound shape with adequate fat reserves and undergoes a minimum amount of weather related stress. (deep snow, wind, below average temperatures for long durations.) then little is required for him to bounce back and antler growth accelerates more quickly. On the other hand, a buck that has severely reduced his fat level from rutting activities goes into winter disadvantaged. Every day throughout the long winter months becomes a survival match for him to even see another spring. A buck in this condition muct first replenish body mass before any energy can be dedicated to his velvet-covered protrusions. Eventually, each buck will be at the same parity of growth regardless of how fast or slow that process was for each individual animal.


Antler growth is initiated by increased light, which is received through the male’s eye. The light is transmitted via the optic nerve to the pineal gland and begins releasing a chemical called melatonin. This chemical works in concert with the pituitary gland to produce a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH), which controls the production of testosterone. In the Northern Hemisphere, March 20th is the time of the spring equinox, a period when daylight begins to significantly increase, and it is then that most males will begin their annual antler growth cycle.

Q. – This past fall I shot a buck that had some wart-like growths on his body. How common is this with whitetails, what exactly are these growths, and should I be concerned about consuming the meat?

                                                                                                                                                  R.L. – York ME


A. – Without actually seeing the animal, or a photo of it I would have to say, based upon your description that the deer you harvested had what is called papillomas. Papillomas are one of three benign tumors known to affect whitetails. These tumors are caused by a viral infection and are seldom detrimental to the life of the animal. Unsightly as they are, papillomas cannot be transmitted to humans and the meat is safe to eat. Only about 1 percent of all deer ever contract this virus and it usually more common in Southern whitetails.

Q. – I have read numerous articles about deer calls and have tried several with mixed results, could you explain to me your thoughts on deer calls and if you use one, what would you recommend?

J. K. – Underhill, VT


A. –Because tracking is my primary methodology of hunting whitetails, I have been very skeptical in making any noise while on the track. But, due to the vast amount of time I’ve spent in research and photographing this animal, my belief in the use of calls has changed dramatically. For instance, without the aid of a fawn bleat call many of the newborns I locate in the spring would have otherwise gone undetected.

Let me first point out that the call itself is not the most important part of the whole equation; it is knowing when and how often to use the call. A tending grunt used in mid-October more than likely will produce little results, yet in the heat of the breeding cycle it could be the one edge necessary to draw in a reluctant buck. This past autumn I had an experience where a grunt call actually scared a buck off. I was still-hunting when I heard a buck grunting repeatedly behind the doe he was following. Because I could not see them and it appeared as though they were going to pass by I elected to grunt back at the buck. Immediately he discontinued his vocalizing and both deer quietly vacated the premises. My guess is that he was a subordinate buck who did not wish to relinquish his girlfriend nor get his butt kicked by a more dominant animal that he perceived was lurking in the shadows grunting.

I personally favor a doe grunt call over all others for these reasons, it never alarms the female deer or their offspring, and a buck, unless he sees or smell me, will usually be interested in investigating a doe.

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