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Antlers growing like weeds on heads of deer, elk, moose

A bull moose photographed by a trail cam in Stevens County sports a good rack of antlers in early July with six weeks to grow before they harden and the velvet is rubbed off in time for the mating season. (Steve Gilbertson)
A bull moose photographed by a trail cam in Stevens County sports a good rack of antlers in early July with six weeks to grow before they harden and the velvet is rubbed off in time for the mating season. (Steve Gilbertson)

WILDLIFE -- Weeds aren't the only things growing like weeds this summer. Members of the deer family are sprouting antlers that can grow to 30 or 40 pounds, in the case of an elk or moose, in just a few months.

Deer antlers are among the fastest types of tissue growth in mammals.

Each year, the antlers of a buck or bull typically begin growing in April in response to increasing day length after the old rack falls off. They develop fully in four months.  The northeastern Washington bull in the photo above is going to be a bruiser during the fall mating season considering it still has six weeks of growing season left.

When the antlers are growing, they are full of nerves and blood vessels and are covered with a hairy skin covering tissue commonly called “velvet.” Antler growth is like building a skyscraper. What is first built is the structure or a frame or matrix. Think of pouring concrete; you must first build a form. That is what deer do. During the early summer, deer antlers are soft to the touch or spongy. Towards the middle of summer, as the form is being finished, the deer begins to “pour” the bone. -- Izaak Walton League report



Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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