Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on August 30, 2016


   August Column


Editor’s note:  Anyone wishing to send a question for future Ask The Deer Tracker posts can e-mail it to,



Q – When do a buck’s antlers stop growing and begin to harden? 

B.L. – Littleton, NH


A – For the most part, antler growth will be complete by the first week of August. At this time a buck’s bulbous antlers will appear to be larger than they actually are. Several physiological changes begin to rapidly take place within the bucks’ body. As day length shortens the flow of a chemical known as melatonin increases, triggering the entire endocrine system into greater activity. The buck’s testicles begin to enlarge, producing increasingly more testosterone, which in turn causes the antlers to calcify.


springbuck copy

Over the span of the next two-to-three weeks the antlers burr will grow out gradually, slowing and ultimately stopping the flow of arterial blood to the velvet. As the arterial blood flow is decreased the veinal blood flow, the network of veins that feed the interior of the antler is simultaneously shut down. With the blood supply diminishing and ultimately cutoff, the spongiosa begins to solidify into bone at the base. Antlers begin to harden from the base towards the tips. As the velvet dries it shrinks, decreasing the size as it tightens to the antlers. There are no set rules governing as to when an individual buck will start rubbing his now calcified antlers. It seems that when the tips crack, almost like a flower ready to blossom, he will initiate the process. Once it starts, a buck will work feverishly at ridding himself of all of the velvet. I believe the dripping blood is an absolute annoyance and bucks don’t like the smell of it.

Coincidentally, during this time another subtle transition is taking place. The bucks’ summer red auburn hair is starting to be replaced with a new winter coat of taupe brown fur.


Q – I’m still-hunting on bare ground, how much terrain should I cover and at what speed?

V.G. – Barre, VT

A – The most important words of wisdom I can convey is that you can indeed travel too fast, but can never really go too slow when hunting on bare ground. Why is it that we become so anxious that our rapid movements serve to announce our presence long before we ever see our target? I believe because we live in a world filled with dead lines, appointments, schedules and expectations it becomes difficult to slow down once into the deer’s wooded sanctuary. The best course of action would be to remove your time piece once hunting begins and enjoy the day afield at a pace equal to the animal.   T.S. Van Dyke, the famous author of The Still-Hunter wrote, “Examine all the surroundings; see which is the best way to approach. But above all things, positively don’t hurry, for in still-hunting Hurry is the parent of Flurry. There is no occasion for haste.”


DSC_0066 copy

Although we all have a bit of the ‘adventurous spirit’ in us, and want to see what is up and over the next ridge, it is better to scrutinize the area thoroughly with slow, methodical movements. Remember that you’re looking for a deer to be standing, feeding or resting without the deer seeing you. This can only be accomplished if you’re moving in a covert manor. True still-hunting is a combination of three elements that all work in concert with each other: slow movement, noiseless walking and frequent stops to scrutinize. When hunting through an area that holds whitetails it is better to cover less ground and do so at a snails pace. In spots that show little-to-no fresh deer sign I would waste little time. Therefore, you must learn to appraise each piece of ground correctly.


Q – During the pre-rut and post-rut what is the favored terrain of an adult buck?

                                                                                        D.B. – Woodstock, NB, Canada

 RF6 copy

A – Adult bucks prefer to live in the most secluded parts of their habitat. That is not to mean that these areas are the most remote or toughest to reach, but will be difficult for the hunter to penetrate undetected. They have chosen these haunts based on the security that it affords and despite whatever distance the available food source may be; the buck would rather travel than compromise his safety. It has been my experience when in mountainous country that the mature buck finds his solace up high, especially if the ridge top contains softwood. In flatter terrain the buck will typically hole up where the vegetation is thickest.



All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G Bernier

© 2016 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.