Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Antlers: Story tellers of deer history

October 22, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

Iowa WHITETAIL DEER are our most common big game animal. Iowa will have an occasional mule deer wander into the state, same for an elk or moose. As members of the family Cervidae, all deer including caribou grow new antlers every year and they loose those antlers every year as the daylight length begins to lengthen in late winter/early spring. It takes quite a bit of energy and minerals from their own bodies and food sources to grow these true bony structures unique to each species.

Deer antlers fall off the skull of bucks usually in late January or into February. Those antlers, no matter how small or how large, are quite a prize for outdoor enthusiasts as they hike through deer territories during March or early April. When one finds a very large antler, it is usually just from one side, a left or a right, but not both. Well, sometimes lady luck smiles and a matching set of shed antlers are found. However, in most cases it is only one side of the bony headgear that is stumbled upon. The other half is nowhere to be found. So the search goes on.

Today's photo is from the Iowa Deer Classic display of last February held at Des Moines. This well done exhibit from the North American Shed Antler Club helps to illustrate the quality of some antlers found by people after all hunting seasons are over. Then the fun begins when one speculates on how big the new antler set will be on the living buck next fall. The deer is likely to be alive. Finding it is the harder task. But if one can find the living deer, knowing it exists and trying to be in the right place at the right time is the next hunting season's great unknown. Trying is important. Every deer hunter may dream of the time and place when all comes together for a trophy animal.

Article Photos

Deer antlers, mostly the naturally dropped off ‘shed’ antlers from buck deer of last year, are a find that may cause avid deer hunters to spend considerable time doing their research and scouting to find the living deer this season. The North American Shed Hunters Club ( was organized to allow collectors of shed antlers an avenue to compare notes and talk about the big one that may still be living. 

How old is a really mature trophy buck? Answer: At approximately 5.5 years of age. This means that the antlers grown by a male whitetail as it approaches its sixth birthday will be the first set where his body is no longer growing. To get big bucks, one must refrain from taking little antlered bucks. On average, bucks at 1.5 years of life will have antlers only 26 percent of their potential. At 2.5 years, it is 44 percent of potential. When 3.5 years rolls around, the number goes to 77 percent. At 4.5 years it is 92 percent and at 5.5 is 96 percent. If the buck is lucky enough, smart enough and lives a nocturnal life style, he can grow bigger antlers at 6.5, 7.5 and 8.5 years of age. Studies have shown that after 8 years of age, a slow decline in antler growth potential will be continuing factor into the future life of an individual deer.


DEER season has just got its beginning run for Iowa this year. Tomorrow is the last day for the early muzzle-loader season. Statewide, more than 8,000 deer have been taken by youth, archers and the early muzzle-loader hunters. Total numbers of deer taken out of the population will grow steadily and then surge as the first and second shotgun seasons start during December.

Iowa deer numbers in 1936 were estimated to be between 500 to 700 animals. By 1950, deer were reported in most counties with a statewide estimate of 10,000. Even then there were a few concentration points and crop damage reports submitted. In response, the Conservation Commission authorized the first modern deer season in December1953. Statewide approximately 4,000 deer were killed.

A lot has changed since 1953. Deer have adapted well, some would say too well. But this fact remains; hunters are the one conservation tool that works best. In fact, it can be said it is the only tool that really works whereby sportsmen and women work together with big game biologists to manage the overall herd numbers. The recreational value of hunting personally and to the economy is huge. It works.

Last year, the reported deer harvest was 127,094, down from the 2009-10 harvest of 136,504 and down from the 2008-09 kill of 142,194. Do you see the trend here? If overall hunting effort by all hunters is about equal, the decreasing numbers indicate that overall deer numbers are going downward. Iowa deer herd numbers peaked in 2005-06. Deer killed by hunters that year were 211,451. The goal of DNR biologists will be to stabilize the post hunting season deer population going into 2012 at the mid 1990s level of +/- 180,000 animals.


DNR law enforcement officers have a tough job to do. They are spread pretty thin across the landscape. They want hunters, trappers and fishermen to be in compliance with the law. They would rather not write tickets. But human nature being what it is, imperfect; someone will claim all kinds of excuses for why they didn't do what the law requires. Many of the laws are aimed at safety related issues. Examples are life jackets in boats that are actually worn by the occupants. Another example is firearms completely unloaded and cased when being transported on public roadways. Every year, a few bad things happen and people get hurt or die from things could have been easily avoided. Look at it this way ... The conservation officer, in doing his/her duty, is trying to prevent you from having the worst day of your life.


Do you laugh or cry following these actual comments made to the National Park Service? 1." Do you have a hiking trails that only go downhill?" 2."A McDonalds would be nice at the trailhead." 3." You should have a petting zoo so people could touch squirrels, deer and bears." 4."The places where trails do not exist are not well marked."


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



I am looking for: