Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on April 17, 2018

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April Column

 

 

Editor’s note: Anyone wishing to send a question for future “Ask The Deer Tracker” posts can e-mail it to, rgbernier@gmail.com

Q. – Having a fascination with deer antlers, I am curious as to exactly when new antlers begin growing in the spring, if they all start at the same time, and how quickly do they grow?
B. L. – Warwick, RI

A. – There is no other aspect of the whitetail that fascinates us more than the antlers that adorn the male’s head. In fact, for most, the bigger the set, the more excitement it generates. Just as the autumn equinox marks the start of decreasing light in September, essentially sparking all of the behavior associated with fall’s rutting activity; the vernal equinox of March 20th sets in motion antler growth. Light plays such an important role in a whitetail’s life.
Through my countless observations and photography, every buck begins blossoming his new set of antlers on or about March 20th coinciding with the spring equinox. This initial flowering, like anything else that grows annually, is slow at first. Whitetails living here in the North are coming out of winter depleted, desperately requiring the nourishment that spring green-up provides. The sooner they are able to replenish that which is lacking to their bodies, the quicker more energy can be transferred into growing antlers. Antlers are made up of protein, and as they grow they are encased in velvet. Long about August that soft protein begins to calcify transforming living tissue into solid bone. Incidentally, most of the calcium and phosphorus in the antlers comes from the other bones of the skeleton, not from the diet.

 

 

Despite growth being slow at first, by mid-to-late May a buck’s antlers begin to surge, growing upwards of a ½” per-day. When you think about how short the growing season is, with a buck’s antlers being fully developed by the first week in August, it makes sense that they need to grow at such a rapid pace.

 

Q. – I hunt in rather remote locations where deer numbers are below a dozen deer per square mile. I had my sights set on a specific buck that I had spotted during one of my scouting missions. If he survives the winter, will I find him in relatively the same area next fall?
T. R. – U.P. Michigan

 

 

A. – By the age of 2, a buck has indeed established his home, wherever that may be. This is classified as his summer range, which he will inhabit from spring break-up from the over-wintering area, until the weather forces him back to the winter yard. There are bucks in my home state of Maine that travel upwards of twenty miles to reach their wintering grounds. If they survive, they will make the return pilgrimage come spring. So, yes, that same buck will be back short of any catastrophes on his part.
Here is how it all works. If I kill a dominant buck in a particular area, another buck will move in. This new tenant will be a juvenile buck that has essentially been kicked out of the domicile where he was born; this due chiefly to prevent inbreeding. His search could lead him to take up residence as close as a couple miles away or be as far as twenty miles distance. The bucks living in close proximity to the new resident will eventually accept him into their fraternity. Once the two-year old finds a vacated area suitable to him, it becomes his new home for life. He will use the same trails as his predecessor simply because they are there. After all, these trails were established to best utilize the terrain for the animal’s advantage. Armed with this insight, I can then return to this same area, year after year with the expectation that a mature buck will be following similar patterns as those bucks that have gone before him.

 

Q. – I am a relative newcomer to the sport of deer hunting. I currently have two seasons of hunting under my belt with lots to learn. I want to be on the ground and herein lies my dilemma; I’m uncertain of how fast or slow I should be moving in the woods. I have jumped numerous deer without being able to get off a shot. Could you elaborate on the speed you customarily travel while hunting?
C. H. – Lewiston, NY

 

 

A. – To put it simply, slow is always better than fast. If you think you are moving too fast, you probably are. A whitetail is attuned to any movement and is quick to pick up on this regardless of the color of your clothing. By moving slowly, maintaining an odd cadence and stopping often, you have a much greater percentage of catching a deer unalarmed. Use your eyes as much or more than your legs.

 

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© 2018 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

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