Discover When and Why Do Deer Shed Their Antlers

Written by Amanda Martinotti
Updated: October 19, 2023
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Introduction: Exploring the Fascinating Phenomenon of Deer Antler Shedding

Every winter, the interesting phenomenon of deer shedding begins. In the past few years, deer antler shedding seems to occur earlier in certain regions of the United States. In this article, you’ll discover when and why deer shed their antlers and learn about the incredible deer shedding phenomenon.

when and why do deer shed their antlers

Every winter, the intriguing process of deer


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shedding begins.


Antler Growth Cycle: Understanding the Stages of Antler Development in Deer

Stage 1: A Young Buck Grows Antlers

Antler growth occurs in the earlier life of male deers, also known as “bucks.” The cells located in the frontal bone begin to change. Tiny bumps will form beneath the young deer’s forehead as these cells develop.

Finally, these little bumps translate into sponge-like bones with excessive blood vessels running through them.  These blood vessels provide vital nutrients that assist in the proper development of the antlers. 

Age and condition determine how fast and how much the antlers will develop over the buck’s life. Additionally, the breed of deer and environment can also have a contributing factor on antler growth. 

During the first fall before a buck’s birth, they begin to develop hair-covered bumps. In addition, these young deer can develop a condition known as “button-buck”. Button buck is a condition in which their bodies secrete additional amounts of oil, which can cause these bumps to appear as if they are made from leather. In rare instances, they can develop tiny spikes of bone that stick out from the antlers. Moreover, this can occur when male fawns are born a month or more earlier than expected. 

As autumn arrives, the germination of antlers will stop until the days are long once more.

Stage 2: The Birth of Velvet Antlers

The development of antlers in young bucks kicks into high gear around their second spring before birth. A change known as “photoperiod” or a shift in nature’s natural light affects their pituitary glands by pushing them to create hormones needed for maturation.

Similarly, a deer’s growth hormone levels act the same as a human developing insulin in their bodies. This period of growth begins at a moderate pace, but it does pick up speed as the days begin to lengthen.

At this point, the antlers still consist of tissue. What’s more, the antler tissue is one of the fastest-growing tissues on this planet.

As the tissue mutates into antlers, the deer will develop a velvet-like material around the antlers. Additionally, the tissue will turn into hardened bone beneath the velvet. What’s fascinating is that two types of bone are produced under the velvet material. The first is the exterior layer. The bone in this layer is the thick bone that gives the antlers the framework and muscular development. Additionally, the second layer consists of bone with a softer makeup similar to sponges. This layer of bone allows the deer to transport essential hormones and nutrients.

Stage 3: Shifting From Velvet to Bone

The third stage, mineralization, speeds up the growth process. As the days shorten, the pituitary glands are awakened to produce higher testosterone levels. Additionally, the soft tissue begins to shift into harder deposits of bone. As the bone hardens, the amount of blood and minerals are cut off. In addition, the velvet will fall off the bone completely within 12 hours, leaving just the bone to remain.

In some cases, it can take longer for the bone to develop. One of the reasons for a slow progression in bone development can be illness in the deer. Additionally, a lack of balanced nutrition can also stunt the growth of antlers.

Stage 4: Antlers Fall Off

It’s intriguing to know that after that lengthy process, the antlers at this stage fall off, only for a new rack of antlers to take place.

The end of the breeding season also marks when the antlers will fall off.

Photoperiodism, otherwise known as the shortening of days, triggers the deer’s body so that changes are coming. Therefore, the antlers prepare for this change by telling the antlers to absorb higher levels of minerals.

As the heightened supply of minerals is absorbed, the antlers create a material that is almost similar to a tooth abscess. This abscess-like substance places a separation between the antlers and the skull. Finally, the antlers break off. 

Then, when the spring months return, the formation of antlers begins again.

when and why do deer shed their antlers

An abscess-like substance places a separation between the antlers and the skull. Finally, the antlers break off.

©Jolanda Aalbers/

Seasonal Timing: Discovering When Deer Shed Their Antlers and the Factors Influencing Timing

Now that you have learned the process of antler formation. It is time to discover when and why deers lose their antlers.

Deers shed their antlers around the center of January until the middle of April. However, depending on the deer’s maturity level, this can take longer or shorter. It is important to remember that once a mature deer has dropped his antlers, it will be a frequent ritual around the same time every year.

Additional factors that can affect the timing of a deer shedding their antlers include


Typically, younger deer will develop their antlers faster than older deer. 


Just like humans, the right nutrition is essential for deer to grow and shed their antlers. Additionally, wildlife specialists have concluded that the right amounts of minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, are vital in the shedding and growth of antlers.

Plus, a herd of bucks that are under stress due to a lack of proper nutrition are also known to shed their antlers earlier in the season.


The surroundings where a young buck may mature play a significant role in the shedding of antlers. The less nutrient-dense an environment is, the more time it may take for the deer to shed their antlers. Additionally, an area where there are more young bucks may increase the testosterone level, therefore influencing the shedding of the antlers. In addition, if it is the end of the breeding season, this will also increase the shedding of antlers.

In addition, if an environment lacks corn or other nutrient-dense crops, antler shedding will likely occur following the drought.

Illness or Injury

If a young buck is sick or injured, this can halt the antler growth process and cause the antlers to fall off. A lack of breeding can also influence the shedding of a deer’s antlers.

Exploring the Role of Hormones and Environmental Triggers in Antler Shedding

Two factors that will significantly impact the antler shedding are hormones and environment. 


Testosterone is an essential hormone that the young deer produce to mature. If there is an imbalance of testosterone, then the shedding of the antlers may progress faster. In addition, if a deer is lacking the testosterone hormone, they may not be a physically fit buck. Not only would that affect their aging, but it could speed up the shedding process of antlers as well.

when and why do deer shed their antlers

If there is an imbalance of testosterone, then the shedding of the antlers may progress faster.

©Bob Keefer/

Purpose and Benefits: Unveiling the Reasons Why Deer Shed Their Antlers and the Benefits of the Process

Why do deers shed their antlers? 

Lower levels of testosterone and the end of the breeding season are common factors in why deers shed their antlers. In addition, a deer that is sick or takes longer to develop is another reason that deer shed their antlers. Plus, a deer that is in an environment rich in minerals or lacking can also significantly impact why a deer sheds their antlers.

Typically, deers shed their antlers before Winter. The reason is that their antlers act as a heater and absorb sunlight during warmer months. But in the wintertime, this is not necessary for the deer. Therefore, they will shed the antlers to prevent getting cold in the winter months.

Another reason that deer shed their antlers is dominance. In mating season, deer will use their antlers to fight and mate. In addition, the stronger, bigger, and more built their antlers are, the more likely they are to win against other bucks. Therefore, shedding their antlers gives deer a chance to grow bigger and stronger antlers each year.

When and why do deer shed their antlers? Whether it’s for mating, growth, or to stay warm in the winter, there are many intriguing complexities behind the fascinating reasons behind antler shedding.

when and why do deer shed their antlers

Shedding their antlers gives deer the chance to grow bigger and stronger antlers each year.

©Tom Reichner/

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Kittisak Srithorn/

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