Deer are so incredibly common in many parts of North America. You might see them in your backyard during certain times of the year depending on where you live.
Many people love to hunt deer for sport. For hunters, getting large bucks with the most impressive sets of antlers will be the biggest prize.
Why do deer have antlers, though? What purpose do the antlers serve?
Continue reading to learn a little bit about deer and why they have antlers. It should give you a greater appreciation for the deer overall.
(Typically) Only Male Deer Have Antlers
The first thing that you should know is that usually, only male deer have antlers. A lot of people know this already, but it’s still an important thing to point out for those who don’t know much about deer.
Young male fawns won’t appear to have antlers at first. Once they reach four or five months old, you’ll be able to tell that they are growing antlers.
These aren’t actually antlers yet, but they have a button-like appearance where the antlers will be. Eventually, the young deer will grow true antlers.
This usually occurs when the deer reaches one year of age, but it can take up to one and a half years for some deer. It’s also notable that male deer grow and shed antlers annually.
Every spring, males are going to start growing a new set of antlers. The antlers will grow between March and August.
You might have noticed the presence of the word “usually” earlier when talking about male deer being the only deer that grow antlers. There have been instances where female deer have grown antlers.
This isn’t normal, but it can happen due to a hormonal problem. In rare cases, female deer will have trouble regulating testosterone and will grow antlers as a result.
1 – Males Grow Antlers to Attract Females
The most important reason why males grow antlers has to do with mating. Males grow antlers in an effort to attract females.
When a buck has a large and impressive set of antlers, it’s going to draw the attention of female deer in the area. The males display their antlers so that they can mate.
Every male deer is going to want to be seen as the dominant male in the area. The dominant male is the one that is the most likely to obtain more mates.
There are all sorts of ways that male deer use their antlers to display dominance. They fight each other by locking antlers to try to win the attention of the female deer in the area.
Deer will wrestle each other while they have their antlers locked. Sometimes, it’s very difficult for two deer to untangle themselves.
This can be extremely problematic. There have even been situations where both deer have died of starvation due to being stuck together.
Sometimes one deer will kill the other and tear off the dead deer’s head. This is all quite gruesome, but it goes to show how aggressive bucks can be when they battle each other.
It’s also common for males to use their antlers to rub against trees and create marks. Males with very large and strong antlers have the best luck mating with females.
2 – Antlers Are Also Used for Defense
Antlers can also be used for defensive reasons to protect the deer from harm. Defense isn’t considered to be the primary use of antlers, but it is something that deer will turn to when the time is right.
If a deer is threatened by a predator, it’ll likely try to run if it feels it is able to do so. When the deer must protect itself from a threat, it’ll try to ram the predator with its antlers.
Deer might sometimes attack people by ramming them with their antlers, too. This is simply something that deer do when they are threatened.
It’s also worth noting that males are especially aggressive during mating season. This period of time is often referred to as “the rut.”
Stumbling across a male deer during this time would be dangerous. They will not hesitate to attack a human who attempts to get too close.
3 – Antlers Help Deer to Get Food
Did you know that deer sometimes use their antlers to find food? They can ram trees to try to knock down berries and fruit.
Sometimes this is the most practical way for deer to get something to eat. A well-timed ram into a tree might knock down acorns or something else that the deer can snack on.
For deer, being able to find food is one of the most important aspects of life. There might not always be plants nearby that they can munch on to stay fed.
Fruits and berries will naturally fall from time to time, but the deer can speed up this process using their antlers. Deer show a lot of ingenuity in the ways that they use their antlers.
4 – Antlers Help Deer to Stay Comfortable
Another interesting way that deer can use their antlers helps them to stay comfortable. Sometimes you might see a deer digging into the dirt with its antlers.
A deer will be able to create depressions in the dirt or even the mud. Once this is finished, the deer will be able to lie down or roll around in an effort to stay cool.
This is especially useful during the hottest parts of the summer. Sometimes deer will try to cover themselves in dirt and mud to keep insects at bay, too.
Being able to stay cool and relax will help the deer out. This isn’t the primary use of antlers, but it’s certainly an interesting way for the deer to stay comfortable.
Are Antlers and Horns the Same?
Antlers are a lot different from horns. Animals such as goats and bison will grow horns, but those don’t grow the same way that antlers do.
You’ll find that horns are made out of keratin. Antlers are actually made of bone.
Another difference is that antlers are shed annually. Deer shed and grow their antlers each year.
Animals that grow horns simply have their horns for the rest of their lives. Deer will shed their antlers and grow new ones each year, and the antlers might look different depending on various factors.
It’s normal to think that antlers and horns are similar. Many people have no idea that deer shed their antlers each year.
Now that you know that antlers are significantly different from horns, you’ll be able to appreciate them more. It makes sense that hunters prize bucks with huge antlers.
What Factors Influence Antler Growth?
You already know that some deer grow larger and more impressive antlers than others. There are many factors that will contribute to how a deer’s antlers turn out.
Genetics is thought to play a significant role. A deer that has large antlers is likely to produce offspring that will also grow larger antlers.
The health of the deer and how much food it has plays a bigger role than many realize, though. Antlers might be larger, stronger, and have more points if the deer has a large stock of food.
This is especially true if the deer is in excellent health. If a deer struggles to find food one year, then it might grow antlers that aren’t quite as impressive as usual.
So you can see that how things are going during a specific year will have an impact on antler growth. Each year, a deer is going to grow antlers, and the new antlers might look quite a bit different than the ones that it had in the prior year.
After learning everything that you can about why deer grow antlers, it should be easier to appreciate them. Antlers are so important to deer and they use them for many different things.
The primary use of antlers involves attracting mates. Male deer grow large and impressive antlers to try to get the attention of female deer in the area.
They’ll wrestle with other males to try to assert their dominance. It’s common for deer to use their antlers to make markings on trees as well.
Bucks will use antlers for defensive purposes in many different situations. Sometimes the antlers will help bucks to fend off predators.
They’ll also use the antlers to help knock food down from trees. Ramming a tree can potentially knock fruit, berries, and nuts down that the deer can eat.
Deer even use their antlers to dig into the ground. It helps them to make a depression that they can lay in or roll around in.
There are so many uses for antlers that will help the deer to thrive. Males shed their antlers each year and then start regrowing the antlers in the spring.
Antlers will grow from March until sometime in late August. How big the antlers will be depends on various factors.
Genetics will play a role, but it’ll also depend on the health of the deer and how much food it has. The antlers will be bigger and more impressive if the deer has plenty to eat.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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