When Whitetail Bucks Lose Their Velvet

The process of antler formation is said to be the most rapid growth known in the animal kingdom, but how does a white-tailed buck get such a huge quantity of minerals from his diet and into his antlers so rapidly? Fact is, they don’t; white-tailed bucks get some of the minerals needed for antler growth from their diet and the remainder of the minerals needed from the internal reserves found within their body.

Grow, Shed Antlers, Repeat

Since a whitetail buck can not get all the raw material it needs for this rapid growth of antlers from the food it eats that season, the deer must borrow it from within its body. In a process similar to that of osteoporosis in humans, minerals are taken from a buck’s ribs, sternum, and skull, and redeposited in growing antlers.

When do bucks lose their velvet?

It’s an amazing process and research has found that bone density may decrease by as much as 30 percent in whitetail bucks following the antler growing season! It also helps explain why mature bucks can grow larger antlers than their younger counterparts. Their skeletal frame continues to grow until at least 3 years of age.

As a result, not only are older bucks able to store more of the minerals need for antler growth but they also do not have a requirement to use them for skeletal growth. Many bucks will exhibit a significant increase in antler size at 4 years of age.

That is also why the big-antlered bucks always seem to be the heaviest bucks, as well — because they are! Good body condition within each deer found on your property is the key to maintaining a quality deer population in any area. That’s why I continually stress sound habitat management be implemented on your property so that the land can be used to provide optimal deer nutrition year-round.

When do Bucks Shed?

By about the first of September antler growth is generally complete in whitetail bucks across their range. Almost as if someone flipped a switch, bucks undergo a rapid transformation. When it happens, bucks shed the soft velvet from the exterior of their antlers and start to beef-up for the breeding season.

This is marked by a sharp rise in testosterone level that triggers a shutdown of the blood supply to the velvet, which results in velvet dying and being totally removed with amazing speed. The velvet will simply fall off, though many bucks because of increased testosterone levels will begin to rub on shrubs and small trees. Lose velvet hanging from shedding antlers can also be annoying, as witnessed in the video below:

Lastly, when I say velvet is lost fast, I mean fast. Velvet can be completely shed from a whitetail buck’s antlers within a day or two. In fact, I’ve seen an older age class buck with no sign of shedding velvet that was sporting completely clean antlers within 22 hours! Antlers are cool, but white-tailed deer are amazing in their own right.

16 Replies to “When Whitetail Bucks Lose Their Velvet”

  1. Harvested an 8 point with velvet on November 27th. Why would he still be in velvet? Never have seen that! Thanks for any help!

  2. My son shot a buck on November 29th in Pennsylvania that was also in full velvet. I was kinda wondering the same thing.

  3. Amy and Steve-

    The growth and shedding of a buck’s antlers is dependent upon hormone levels. As testosterone levels increase, bucks will rub off their velvet. When testosterone levels decrease, usually in late winter, their antlers fall off.

    The bucks you refer to have antlers covered in velvet so their testosterone levels are low and have remained low. These deer are stag bucks (without functioning testes). Though some stag bucks become so after injuring the “family jewels” most stags are born without them. These bucks do not breed or go into the rut and are social outcasts. Their antlers never shed their velvet, and the antlers themselves never are shed.

  4. I have documented photo’s of a buck beginning his shed of velvet at 9:00 p.m. Just the tips showed blood on the trail camera, and by 12:30 a.m., 3 1/2 hours later, it was hanging down beside his face. The buck was reaching to eat it in the last pictures before he departed!

  5. How soon after shedding their velvet does a buck become territorial and start chasing off smaller (less dominant) bucks?

  6. Tom, I don’t know if I can pin down an exact time on this one, but bucks usually start becoming aggressive towards one another not long after losing their velvet. In Texas, bucks shed velvet from late August to late September depending on the location and the year, and they are plenty aggressive within weeks if not days. Bachelor groups tend to break up pretty quickly once they can use their headgear to hurt one another.

  7. Should I be scared of an 8 pt buck during rutting season? Been feeding him for 2 years. Would he ever attack me? Right now he is very tame!

  8. Betty-Jean, I can’t tell you what a deer will or will not do. Even deer that become habituated to humans are wild animals. That deer may never hurt you, but it could also attack you at any time. I would urge additional caution during the breeding season though.

  9. Bill, older deer tend to do things before younger deer… breeding, antler growth, and probably even the loss of velvet. If these bucks are older this could be the case. Otherwise, it’s likely stress related. Is there a high deer density in the area or is has it been particularly dry in your part of the world? If it is stress, it’s probably related to nutrition. Seems a little early in the summer for disease issues, but you never know.

  10. The antler growing/shedding cycle still amazes me. For hunters that are looking for large antlers the age of a buck is most important!

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