In most areas where Whitetails are found, a buck’s antlers are fully grown and hardened by September. The velvet that carried through the growth of the antlers begins to dry and peel away soon thereafter. The diminished daylight that comes with October stimulates hormone production and the neck of the buck begins to swell with the increased blood supply resulting in bulging and hardening muscles needed for battle. The rutting fever usually peaks in November and starts to subside in December. This is the time chosen by states for their official firearms season.
Bucks may cross paths while trailing the same doe. If they are fairly matched, a fight is likely to ensue. With heads lowered they meet each other in a contest of strength, balance, and shoving ability. The goal is to push the other over and wait for the opportunity to dip under the others guard with a goring or slashing lunge. Once in a while a spike buck beats the older racked buck by stabbing his straight, slender horns between their horns. However, most of the time, after a close fight has lasted minutes or as much as an hour with brief rests between desperate rounds, one buck breaks away and quits the area. The winner returns to his pursuit of the doe.
Deaths are rare during fights but they have occurred when a buck is fatally gored or trampled. Even more rarely, rival bucks will lock antlers and become unable to get untangled.
Soon after the rut, the buck will shed his antlers. The process starts over again in the spring when he begins to grow new ones, usually in May. The velvet covering of the growing antlers is a membrane of modified skin, laced with veins to nourish them and covered with short, bristly hairs.
Newborn bucks at 4-6 months of age begin to grow antlers from the base, known also as the pedicle (the two circular areas that grow antlers from a buck’s skull). Buck fawns grow two small bump-like antlers, or "buttons", their first year and will grow their first true set of antlers during the following spring and summer. The second rack will be bigger than the first, and with sufficient nutrition, each set of antlers will grow even larger until the buck passes his prime (usually 5-7 years old). Pedicle diameter also increases with age, with new bone grown annually in concentric layers. Older bucks typically cast their antlers before young bucks, and immature or unhealthy bucks may not shed their antlers until early spring (March-April).
Deer Antler growth usually begins during the month of March or April and by August or early September, antlers are fully-grown. In most cases the typical deer antlers begin by growing out of the head in a backward motion, then quickly changes direction and sweeps forward.
The antlers of the buck are the coveted “trophy” of hunters. The most prized trophy is the non-typical rack. Non-typical antlers result from congenital oddities or the result of an injury during growth. Sometimes these antlers become very large, assume odd asymmetrical shapes, and may sprout tines like thorns.
In rare instances, female white-tailed deer (one in several thousand) may grow antlers generally as the result of abnormally high levels of testosterone in the doe's body.
A simple field observation can indicate whether you are looking a trophy buck or not. If the deer is seen from behind and the rack is wider than the body, it will be a great set of antlers. Other indications of an excellent rack are thick-looking bases, a sweep that seems disproportionally large for the head or an antler height comparable to the length of the tail or the distance from chin to bottom of brisket (breast or lower chest).
Spring/Summer -In response to changes in the amount of daily exposure to sun (photoperiod), growth hormones from the pituitary gland trigger the release of Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF), which stimulates antler growth. During this time, the soft growing antler is covered with hairy skin, called "velvet". When antlers are in the velvet stage they are full of thousands of blood vessels, cartilage and nervous tissue. Growth of antlers is very rapid, and Whitetail Bucks are capable of growing nearly ½ inch of antler per day. The development process can vary greatly depending upon the genes and nutrition of each deer. During development, the deer’s antlers are very delicate and extremely sensitive to the touch. This is also the time when most antler damage or breakage occurs.
Mineral requirements for antler growth exceed those of normal skeletal growth.
Hard antlers are low in water and high in dry matter: 60% dry matter & minerals (40-45% crude protein & 54-60% ash [25-40% calcium and 19% phosphorus] and
40% organic material (water, etc.) When you are lucky enough to see a buck with huge antlers, you are probably seeing a buck in his prime (5-7 years) who has been lucky enough to eat well.