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A little bit about antlers

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Got a moose on the loose!

Or so it seemed after checking the trail camera from one of my favorite honey holes. One late evening, I discovered a photo of a mature buck sporting a fine set of fuzzy, palmated headgear. It’s rare to spot palmated bucks in this region, so surely I did a double-take. Those wide and flat sections of bone are quite common on other members of the deer family, most notably moose. But not so much in whitetail.

I looked up the causes of palmated antlers, and all of the experts appear to agree that it’s a genetic trait passed down from father to son. This left me scratching my head as the only other palmated buck I have been aware of in this region was from way back in 1980.

But, whatever has caused this big rascal’s antlers to palmate, I’m glad it did. I kind of enjoy seeing odd racks of antlers. I captured a buck on camera a couple of years ago whose antlers dropped downward as if they were melting from the heat. I never caught up with him during hunting season, but I have thought of him often. I would have loved to have known what caused such odd growth.

This particular moose-like buck is probably only passing through, but I hope he sticks around for a while. He’s still in velvet, that fuzzy skin encasing his growing rack, so he’s not finished growing those antlers. While still in velvet, whitetail deer can grow up to an inch of new bone each day. Knowing that, the old moose ought to be one very impressive fellow by September.
Sometime about the first of September, that velvety skin will begin to dry out, and the bucks will shed it completely to reveal the new antlers they will carry with them throughout the breeding season. Those antlers are arguably the most coveted trophy in all of hunting sports.

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During the early season and before the different phases of the rut, a buck’s antlers can be the end of another. You see, by taking a set of antlers from a previous harvest, you can tickle the tunes against each other, rubbing and clashing the two sides together to sound like a pair of young bucks sparring. The big old territorial bucks can be fooled into coming over to investigate the ruckus, allowing him to stroll in near enough to invite him to supper.

I’ve tried rattling with mixed results. It mostly came down to the demographic of the herd that I was hunting. Areas that naturally hold a high buck population will experience a lot more response to rattling because those bucks have to fight for breeding rights. Areas with fewer bucks, well, since they don’t have to fight to breed, they will actually shy away from confrontation. An ideal buck-to-doe ratio is around 1:2-4 for rattling to be effective. Most public lands in central Florida fail to come close by hosting buck-to-doe populations in the 1:5-1:9 range. With that many does about, bucks become lovers, not fighters. They’re not willing to spend the energy running youngsters out of the area when there’s no need.

If you have any questions or comments on today’s article, please give me a shout at [email protected]. God Bless, and good hunting!

Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit is a best selling novelist and professional outdoorsman with thirty-five years of experience guiding and outfitting for big game all across America. Toby is a renowned archer and turkey hunting expert who manufactures custom game calls and is a regular judge at NWTF sanctioned turkey calling events across the Southeast.
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