Hunters are a lot like the white-tailed deer that they hunt, with each one being different from the rest of the herd. Some hunters like bucks with big, wide spreads while others want long tine lengths or bucks with mega-mass. Fortunately, not all bucks are cut from the same template. Late summer is the time of the year when whitetail bucks begin shedding antler velvet. While this is true for most bucks, what about the very small percentage of bucks that do not shed their velvet? How can this happen?
Hunter’s Story: “I heard from my taxidermist about the largest 6 point whitetail buck he had ever seen. Apparently, he was an 8 year old deer, harvested in December while still in full velvet, and the deer had been castrated, most likely by jumping a fence. The explanation goes something like this: The deer was likely injured/castrated in the summer of his 3rd or 4th year. Because the velvet dies off in the fall due to increased testosterone levels, and this bucks levels obviously did not increase, his velvet lived and the antlers continued to grow.
And because the shedding of a buck’s antlers is triggered by a decrease in testosterone levels after the rut, he never shed his antlers. The buck basically maintained the same testosterone level his entire life, none. And so supposedly he kept the 6 point frame he had developed as a 3 year old, when the injury occurred. However, the points and main beams continued to grow for a number of years, creating a truly one of a kind buck. I’m a pretty experienced deer hunter and even I’m a little skeptical of this story, but I guess it sort of makes sense.”
This can happen. Antler growth, development, loss of velvet and antler shedding are all dependent upon hormone levels. The hormone that impacts this annual antler cycle is in fact testosterone. Antler development during a single year, as well as the absence of a normal antler cycle throughout a number of years, can occur because of inadequate testosterone levels in bucks. Typically, as testosterone levels increase bucks will rub off their velvet. When testosterone levels decrease, usually in late winter, their antlers fall off.
The buck referenced in the story above has antlers covered in velvet, so the testosterone levels are low and have remained low over several years. These deer are referred to as stag bucks. Whitetail stags are bucks that lack 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 participate in the rut and are basically social outcasts. Their antlers never lose their velvet and the antlers themselves never are shed.
From a deer management perspective, stag bucks do not contribute anything do a deer herd. Antler growth will be limited and in most cases the stag condition is genetically based or at least influenced by injury during early physical development. These animals, like any whitetail deer, do use the available habitat and will readily consume feed. The harvest of whitetail bucks that do not lose their velvet-covered antlers is recommended.