Whitetail deer populations found in temperate climates and wooded areas grow faster and bigger than deer populations found elsewhere. This growth includes a buck’s antlers. That being said, whitetail have shown that they can adapt to harsher environments such as wind-blown open prairies, mountainous terrain, and even desert areas. Because of the varying habitats that whitetail have inhabited, the species in each areas has evolved and can now categorized into at least 25 distinct subspecies, some with distinct color differences.
Variation between whitetail subspecies ranges from overall size, color, and body-to-antler size ratio. The climate and habitat of the different subspecies are the driving factors in those differences. Whitetail deer living in the desert, mountains and savannas are considerably smaller than their relatives from the forest and plains areas. This is in part due to the availability and kind of food available, and in part due to terrain and herd movement. As you can imagine, a deer’s environment play a large role in it’s growth and development.
Although a whitetail buck goes through different stages of antler growth, a buck’s antlers typically start growing in the late spring. At that time, the buck’s antlers are covered with a highly vascularised tissue commonly referred to as velvet. Growth of the antlers is very rapid, and continues on through to August or September in most whitetail deer. Some whitetail subspecies can grow as much as an inch of antler per day!
In late summer or the early fall, a bucks’ testosterone levels increase and trigger the hardening of their antlers through calcification. Once the soft growth has hardened and turned to bone, the velvet dries up and peels off. Bucks then rub their antlers against trees and brush to help remove the dead velvet. These rubs are often witnessed by deer hunters that enter the woods in the fall.
Age, diet and health are determining factors in the size, shape and color of the whitetail buck’s antlers. Antler size and mass will continue to increase in bucks until they are 5 to 7 years of age, although many factors ultimately determine whitetail buck antler growth.