Throughout the winter months, whitetail bucks cast off or “shed” their antlers in response to dropping testosterone levels associated with increasing daylight. Many outdoor enthusiasts search for these shed antlers as collectibles, use them to build lamps or furniture, and determine which bucks made it through the hunting season.
Shed antlers can also be used as indicators of deer health and habitat quality. Next time you find a shed antler, take a look at its base or the area where it would have been attached to the buck’s skull, also known as the pedicle seal.
If the pedicle seal is level with the burr or concave, it’s a good indication that the buck was under some kind of environmental or physical stress during the previous fall/breeding season. This poor seal can also result in earlier antler shedding.
Conversely, if the pedicle seal is deep or there is a large protrusion of bone below the burr, the buck was likely in good physical condition during the breeding season. If most of the shed antlers you find have a flat or concave pedicle seal, it could be an indication of bigger problems.
Environmental stress caused by drought, disease outbreaks, or poor habitat quality can all lead to poor pedicle seal development and early antler shedding. It may also be an indication that the deer population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the local habitat and bucks are experiencing nutritional stress.
Shed hunting can be a fun family activity and a rewarding reason to get outdoors in the late winter and early spring, but each antler also provides a clue into the health of that individual buck during the previous fall.
Photo of antler shed courtesy DEC.