Thursday, October 09, 2008

Antlers Or Horns: WhicH Is Correct?

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Windy weather always sets me to thinking. If I was a big buck, where would I be laying up or traveling to. Sometimes, the answers to those questions can be difficult or impossible to determine.

One thing I thought about today is the common and illogical use of the words “antlers” and “horns.” People often say their buddy shot a nice buck with a good set of horns.

Not only are the two words not interchangeable, but it’s time to set the record straight. Members of the deer family (caribou, deer, elk and moose) have antlers. These bony growths sprout from the skull in the spring, grow all summer, harden in early fall, and fall off in early or late winter. They grow from a bare skull, reach full growth and fall off.

Horns are year ‘round growths that continue to grow year after year. Buffalo (bison), muskox and wild sheep are three examples of animals that have horns.

This oddball mixing of two vastly different terms runs rampant on television hunting shows, and neither the host nor the hunters seem to notice the difference. Many southern hunters incorrectly call “antlers’ by the name, “horns.”

So, to clarify things, antlers fall off but horns continue to grow. The two words are not interchangeable, and show a lack of knowledge.

Back to the antlers. It’s an amazing thing to watch whitetail deer grow antlers. They seem to have bald heads in the spring, and if you see them two or three days later, you’ll notice a change. The antlers grow according to the genetic make-up of the individual animal and the amount of nutritious food they consume.

A big buck begins with small antlers, but as time goes on, the antlers grow up and out, get bigger around, and more points form and continue to grow until they reach their full growth in September. The velvet on the antlers dry, and is soon hanging in strips from the antlers, and then the head-gear is bone hard and white.

Nutrition, age and genetics are key ingredients in the make-up of a whitetails antlers. Most of the nutrition in the early spring and summer goes to fulfill body needs, and any leftover nutrition goes to produce antlers.

Age is a major factor in antler production. It’s virtually impossible for a 1 1/2-year-old buck to have a huge rack with thick, heavy bases, a wide spread and long and heavy tines commonly found on bucks that are 4 1/2 to 7 1/2 years of age.

The change from one year to the next can be obvious if the deer were fenced in so a person could view them on a daily basis. Some deer grow antlers faster than others but most deer still have velvet-covered antlers on Labor Day. It doesn’t take the animals long to shed the velvet once it is dry. Bucks can only breed when their antlers are hard.

The type of antler produced is directly attributable to genetics or injury. Many bucks will injure their antlers while in the velvet, and like an old bamboo fly rod that rests against a wall for a short period of time, the antlers will take a “set.” This means that an antler bumped hard against a tree limb may be bent downward or upward at an odd angle.

A buck that suffers an injury will often have a deformed antler on the opposite side of the body. A right leg injury often results in the left antler being deformed in some way.

The same is true if a testicle is injured. It can cause a deformity to the antler on the opposite side.

One wonders which has the greater beauty? A typical or nontypical rack? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Frankly, I find loveliness in both types of racks, but a tall and evenly matched set of typical antlers is beautiful. But then, the quirky look of a big nontypical rack is something to behold.

Nontypical antlers come in all shapes and sizes. Some may have some short kicker or sticker points while the next animal may have one or more drop points. Two years ago a friend shot a very nice buck with three main beams, and it was difficult to see the third beam except under perfect conditions.

Call antlers whatever you wish. They can be small, large, big, wide spread, high, beautiful, fantastic, huge or whichever adjective you choose. Just don’t refer to a whitetails rack as “horns.” It’s a sure sign of personal ignorance about this topic.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/09 at 08:24 PM
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