In the wake of the Marc Anthony scandal (the hunter, not the singer, and not Cleopatra’s boyfriend —which is spelled with a “k”), and in the midst of researching yet another potential big-buck scam, which I hope to report on soon, I was feeling a little jaded about antlers. Then a couple of spring bucks bounded through the yard, with their velvety stubs backlit by the sun—the stirrings of a new season and a fresh set of miraculous headgear—and I instantly recovered.
I like antlers. I have ever since I was a kid, and I find them every bit as fascinating now. On one hand, whitetail antlers are enough alike that we can say “he was a basket-racked yearling,” and an immediate picture pops in the head of every deer hunter. On the other, no two sets are exactly the same, and if a buck puts some on some age and has the right genes, he can grow a set of antlers like nothing else you’ve ever seen.
Antlers are special outside of hunting, too. According to research done at Mississippi State University’s Deer Lab (http://www.msudeerlab.com/growthcycle.asp), the antlers of yearling bucks grow about ¾ of an inch per week, and adult bucks can pour on 1-1/2 inches of bone in that time. Scientists researching everything from cancer to stem cells have studied deer antlers to better understand how fast-growing tissues behave. How cool would it be if we could someday credit deer antlers for a cancer cure?
Yes, antlers have a dark side. They inspire some folks to bend and break the law. And they can simply breed craziness; some cultures ingest powdered antler as an aphrodisiac or virility potion, and enough pro baseball players have used antler spray to improve their performance to make even Bud Selig look askance.
All that stuff is a sideshow to me. I’d love it if a whitetail rack brought a medical breakthrough, and I hate it that some people cheat to be pictured with a trophy set. But mainly, I just like looking at antlers. I don’t care if I’m viewing them through a binocular lens, staring at a trail cam photo, or ogling the head of a buck trotting toward me through the timber. I’ll never tire of antlers. And I’m excited that another growing season has begun.