Displaying a full set of antlers in April

In April, the red deer were shedding antlers. Generally, throughout the herd, it seemed a slow process as some stags started to shed very early in April. However, the most noticeable deer shedding antler period was from 8th April – 12 April. Currently, only a minority of stags remain intact with complete antlers.

Timing of deer shedding antlers

The timing of when deer are shedding their antlers does vary. Some deer studies suggest dominant stags shed their antlers first, and other records say it is the older stags that cast before the other herd members. However, on this estate, it was not the case. One large, older dominant stag still had his complete set, and was in the minority group of intact deer this week. There were other dominant, older stags displaying full sets by 12th.

Change in stag behaviour during casting

There was a noticeable change in stag behaviour leading up to and during the casting period. During the period of deer shedding antlers, the main herd of stags split up. Interestingly, stags with their antlers intact stayed within a group of antlered deer. In March, when the deer grouped together for feeding their behaviour changed. Over the months of winter feeding the deer appeared to be very tolerant of one another. The subtle warnings of wide eyes, heads back or a nod were generally only given by a few stags within the herd. Occasionally, there were a few disagreements with deer charging with their heads down and scissor kicking others. This tension usually occurred with a small number of stags, and it was usually the same ones. The dominant, large stag, named Boris, was always given a clear path, and was never challenged by other stags within the herd. On occasion, he would simply nod his head of another stag if it came too close.

Annual cycle of deer antlers

Red deer antlers undergo a yearly cycle. In early spring, the antlers start to grow from bony pedicles. The fast growing antlers are covered in velvet. At this stage of growth the antlers are soft and vulnerable. As the months progress into mid-summer the antlers stop growing and they mineralise. Once this takes place the deer rub their antlers against trees, posts etc., to remove the dead velvet. The end result is a full headset of antlers, often referred to as ‘clean’. The stags are ready for fighting in the rut.

New springtime growth of antlers

Red stag with new antler growth

The new springtime growth of antlers happens at a fast rate. Within days of casting antlers, some stags are displaying new growth. The new springtime growth looks like bulging dark buttons, tender, and very fragile.

The entire process of casting and growing antlers must put their bodies under considerable strain and increase the need for good quality feeding ground.

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