WILDLIFE WATCHING -- Deer, elk and moose males have been shedding their antlers in preparation for growing new and often larger sets, which play a role in fall breeding seasons.
They're not all on the same schedule. Some bucks and bulls started shaking off their hat racks in December. Others will carry their racks for another month or so.
Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson captured the image above of a whitetail buck at the moment it was checking out why his head was suddenly feeling a little lighter. It won't be long before new antlers will be growing from those bloody "holes" in his head.
- In the second photo above, one bull elk was still sporting a rack last week near the Washington-Idaho state line.
The antlers of deer, elk and moose are are shed and regrown usually in larger proportions each year. In a marvel of nature, a big bull moose or elk can sprout more than 40 pounds of antler "bone" in about four months. The antlers are blood-rich active growing tissue before they "dry up," harden and lose their velvet covering in the late summer.
In comparison, the horns of bighorn sheep grow on the rams each year without being shed.
Antlers play a role in competition, intimidation and fighting for breeding rights.
Collecting shed antlers has become a popular and profitable hobby as gatherers sell the antlers for cash.
Shed hunting has become so competitive, wildlife agencies are concerned the collectors are having a serious impact by disturbing big-game animals while they're still in a weakened condition on their winter ranges.
- See these rules and tips for shed hunting from Idaho Fish and Game.