Discover Nature: Deer in Velvet

Aug 30, 2017

A white-tailed deer displays young antlers covered in a hair-like membrane known as velvet. In late August and early September, bucks rub off this soft layer, revealing hardened antlers used to fight-off competing males through the breeding season.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

This week on Discover Nature, watch for scrape-marks, or rubs on trees, as white-tailed deer shed “velvet” from their antlers.

White-tailed deer are reddish-brown in summer and males have been growing antlers since April or May.  Antlers develop, initially covered in a plush, hair-like membrane commonly known as velvet. By August, antler growth slows, and these bone formations begin to mineralize, or harden.

Antlers reach full size in late August or early September. As blood, carrying nutrients needed for growth ceases to flow to the antlers, the velvet dries and peels off.

Males can display aggressive behavior during this time, and accelerate the shedding process by rubbing their antlers against trees, vines, brush, and even tall grass.

Healthy bucks will retain their hardened antlers to fight-off competing males and establish dominance through the breeding season.

This week in the woods, keep an eye out for these rub-marks as signs of deer living nearby.

Learn more about white-tailed deer and their growth process with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.