Season’s over, but still thinking about those antlers

The 2019 deer hunting season is over for most of us here in New York state (though there are some late hunting seasons that even track into the New Year, such as in Westchester County ends Dec. 31, and Suffolk County, Jan. 31, not to mention other states.) But now as winter settles in here in the Northeast, the antler hunting season just changes its beat.


Still thinking about those antlers.


As soon as we get a streak of above average temperatures and the snow starts to go, some of us enjoy our time walking through the woods and fields, looking for the "drops," those hard to find shed deer antlers.


Antlers are used mostly for chandeliers, lamps, carvings, and are even becoming popular as dog chews because not only are they rich in protein, but also provide a natural source of minerals and other nutrients. Dogs, even the fussy ones, love to chew on antlers.


And that’s where our competition in hunting for shed antlers comes from. Shed hunters compete mostly with wintertime rodents, such as squirrels and mice, along with porcupines.


Critters often beat us to the antler first and scrimshaw their signatures as they chew away, seeking the nutritional value gained from ingesting the elements and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and manganese to name a few.


And its not just animals that eat antlers. Antlers have always held a revered corner in mankind's pharmacopeia or medicine cabinet from our earliest beginnings.


Even today, antlers are in the sports medicine headlines too.


Modern whitetail research has shown us that antlers are, in a way, transplanted bone from the deer's ribs and sternum.


Bucks undergo a kind of osteoporosis each summer and early fall as the chemistry in their bones migrates to the top of their heads ... being replaced slowly as the deer feeds. Minerals and trace elements which make up antlers are drawn out of the ribs and sternum.


Researchers have speculated that some bucks even succumb to the rigors of the fall breeding season, the rut, partially because they are further depleted in energy and essential nutrients due to their antler growth and unable to replace these essential chemicals quickly enough to sustain life during the toughest time of the year.


Where does all that chemistry, the building block minerals from calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potash, and sodium, etc. come from to produce a big set of antlers in whitetails, not to mention others cervids such as moose and elk, especially in our depleted soils in much of the whitetail's range?


After all, livestock needs a constant supply of various mineral supplements for health, supplied by the farmer.


The extinct adult male Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) once grew the largest antlers of any extinct or extant cervid or deer, up to 12 feet in span from tip to tip.


Ironically, these massive antlers and their growth have been partly indicted for the extinction of the Irish elk, occurring about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.


Researchers worked out numerical formulas to substantiate their premise that as the climate changed, the Irish elk was unable to balance the mass in its antlers with its intake of nutrients. So in a way, the species went extinct due to a type of "Irish Elk osteoporosis."


As a hunter, whitetail antlers fuel our hopes, desires, and dreams like no other animal part.


Antler genesis is used today on the cutting edge of cancer and osteoporosis medical studies. Many researchers admit there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the antler's bio-mechanisms ... how they grow. Predating our modern medical research into antlers was Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.)


Accordingly, antlers in the growing stage ... what we term "in velvet" are considered as one of the superior nutrients, putting it on the same pharmacological shelf as Reishi mushrooms and Ginseng as an adaptogen and efficacy in immune system modulation.


Today, with all the modern interest in bodybuilding and sports medicine, antler velvet is used by athletes around the world as a natural source for testosterone with the goal of increasing muscle mass and ligament strength. Olympic athletes, pro football players and even golfers on the PGA circuit use antler velvet to enhance their games.


To supply the worldwide demand, deer farms maintain herds of deer and elk for the specific purpose of harvesting and selling their antlers.


According to ESPN, the World Anti-Doping Agency dropped its ban on deer antler velvet from its prohibited substances list. Antlers in velvet contain IGF-1 and IGF-2, considered precursors to human growth hormone (HGH), so often linked with steroid abuse.


Ironic that the ubiquitous deer antler that we hunt for has not only been historically a symbol for vitality and power, but today is ingested by professional athletes in their quest for physical strength.


Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.