If you’ve ever considered going deer hunting, you’ve probably encountered countless terms you’re unfamiliar with.
Why do so many hunters talk about the rut? What’s the difference between a buck, a doe, and a fawn? And how can you tell the difference between a scrape and a rub?
It takes most new hunters quite a while to get familiar with the terminology in the hunting world. But one of the most fascinating is the term “velvet.” Deer antler velvet is a phenomenon that many veteran hunters are familiar with.
Antler velvet can give you an idea of the age of a male deer, and at what stage of the growing cycle they are in.
But the velvet of a deer antler goes far beyond the realm of hunting. Antler velvet is actually one of the most unique types of supplements you can use today.
But what exactly is the velvet on an antler, and how is it used? Keep reading to find out now.
Most people confuse antlers and horns. Some animals, like deer and elk, grow antlers. Antlers are very different from horns, which are grown by animals like bighorn sheep and bison.
Antlers are bones that extend from the skull of the animal. They are solid bones. And animals shed and regrow antlers each year.
In general, only male animals grow antlers, which is how you can tell a buck (male deer) from a doe (female deer).
Horns, on the other hand, aren’t shed and regrown. They continue growing continuously for the life of the animal. They are also a two-part structure.
The inner portion is made of bone, extending from the skull of the animal. The outer portion, what we see, is grown by special hair follicles, just like fingernails. Both male and female animals grow horns.
The fact that deer shed and grow antlers each year makes antlers the fastest growing tissue in the entire animal kingdom.
Deer shed their antlers in the winter after the breeding seasons (the rut) have ended. The deer no longer need them to fight other males, so they come off. A drop in testosterone levels signals the detachment of the antlers from the skull.
In the spring, after the deer has recovered from the rut, increased testosterone levels spur the growth of new antlers. By the end of summer, the antlers should be at their peak size.
Each year, the antlers of a deer so reach a more impressive size, with more tines.
What Is Deer Antler Velvet?
So where does the velvet come in? During the summer, when antlers are rapidly growing, they are covered by a soft, fuzzy tissue known as velvet. This velvet is delivering nutrient-rich blood to the entire antler, which is what helps it grow so fast.
During this season, antlers are soft to the touch and can be easily damaged since they are covered in velvet.
Once the antlers stop growing at the end of summer, the velvet is no longer needed, and sheds from the antler, revealing the fresh, hard bone. Many bucks will speed up the velvet shedding process by rubbing their antlers against trees.
Bucks continue to rub antlers against trees as a way to prepare for the rut when they will be fighting with other deer.
Because hunting seasons are usually late in the fall, closer to the rut, most hunters never see or harvest a velvet buck. But in some states, archery seasons start at the end of summer, providing the only opportunity to glimpse these fuzzy antlers.
Why Is Deer Antler Velvet Valuable?
During the velvet stage, antlers are alive. They are primarily made of liquid, in the form of blood and water. The antlers are very delicate during this stage, and male deer go to great lengths to protect their antlers while they are growing under velvet.
The velvet is rich in nutrients that are important to both deer, and to people. In fact, deer velvet has been used in traditional medicine in various cultures for generations.
Deer antler velvet health products are quite common, especially with the approval of the FDA. Deer antler velvet supplements are commonly used to support joint structure and function.
But proponents of antler velvet say that this nutrient-rich substance is capable of much more.
While the use of velvet antler health products is still limited in the US, it is increasing in demand across the world. In many Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, antler velvet supplements are much more common.
And since many countries have native deer populations, the export of antler velvet supplements extends far beyond North America.
Countries such as New Zealand, China, Russia, Canada, and Korea produce large quantities of farmed antler velvet. And in many parts of the world, this economic activity has been taking place for thousands of years.
How Is Velvet Harvested?
About eight weeks after the antlers start growing in the spring, the antlers reach their peak nutrient level. This is the ideal time to harvest the antlers.
Deer antler velvet is only harvested on commercial deer farms and is not a technique used on wild deer populations. The process is as humane as possible since antlers are designed to shed and regrow every year.
Farmed deer are minimally restrained while having their antlers hygienically removed. The antlers are cooled and frozen, and the deer continue on with their day.
Various processing methods can be used to manufacture velvet health products. In the past, boiling the antlers was common practice. But today, alternative methods are used, since exposure to heat has the potential to destroy some of the helpful components of the antlers.
Velvet antlers are a renewable resource and can be farmed in conjunction with commercial venison, another high-demand product as lean red meat.
Find Your Own Antlers
Antlers are one of the most fascinating aspects of the animal kingdom. And deer antler velvet is a big reason why this topic is so intriguing.
So next time your out for a hike in the woods, keep your eyes peeled for antlers that may have been left behind over the winter. They make for great keepsakes or dog bones.
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