Reflections in Nature: Rifle deer season starts Monday

Rifle deer season starts Monday

Here in Pennsylvania, the opening of buck season on the first Monday after Thanksgiving Day has been a tradition for more than a century and many schools and some businesses are closed this day.

Since the hunters have many opportunities to hunt for the elusive whitetail before the regular rifle season begins, rifle season is not as popular as it once was.

In recent years, I have heard many complaints from people saying they are not seeing as many deer as in years past. However, if these folks were to take a walk in the woods, they would see deer signs everywhere due to this year’s excellent crop of wild foods, such as beech nuts, acorns, grapes, etc. I suspect that the hunters bagging deer this year will find the animals have a heavy layer of fat.

To be successful in shooting a buck, you’ll want to hunt on the first two days of the season. In past years, about 65 percent of the bucks harvested occurred on opening day, with 11 percent of the harvest taken on the second day.

As a hunter watches a deer vanish into the forest, he might wonder to himself whether the deer had horns. Actually, this is a misnomer because deer have antlers, not horns.

The difference between horns and antlers is that horns have no blood supply and are and have always been dead. Horns, which grow on both sexes of a species, are made of keratin, the same mineral as our fingernails.

Antlers are bone and are grown by the male members of the deer family. The only exception to this is the female caribou; however, two weeks after giving birth to her young, she sheds her antlers.

Although antlers are living bones for much of the year, once they die, they harden. Antlers are shed every year.

At birth, a young buck’s antlers immediately begin to grow. By the first fall, the antlers will be small buds known as “buttons.”

When an antler is soft and growing, it is known as being in the velvet stage. These soft antlers can be injured and become deformed. The injured antler will overdevelop, causing it to have unusual curves or points.

What is amazing is that the deer seems to remember the injury and that particular antler will be deformed every year of the buck’s life.

Scientists have also found that if a deer injures its right rear leg, while in the velvet stage, the left antler will be stunted; also, if the left rear leg is injured the right antler will become stunted.

However, an injury to a front leg will cause the antler on the same side to become stunted.

When growing its antlers, a buck cannot get all the minerals (calcium) needed from the food eaten; therefore, the buck takes minerals from its own skeletal system, especially from the rib area. The antlers, which are growing at a fast rate, put much stress on the deer’s bones, especially the ribs, which become brittle and easily broken. Once the antlers are finished growing, the buck replaces the minerals that have been robbed from its body.

The medical profession is trying to discover how the buck is able to do this, with hopes that someday a doctor could just give an injection to someone who has broken an arm or leg. The body’s minerals would go to the injured area and, presto, the break is repaired! No cumbersome cast or crutches. Later, our bodies would replenish these minerals.

When a buck sheds the velvet from its antlers, it is done in conjunction with the amount of light. All bucks in the wild will shed their velvet in a three-week period. Also, the amount of light triggers the growing of the antlers.

A buck does not lose its antlers at the same time. In the wild, a buck can lose an antler one day, and lose the other antler days or even weeks later. One day a buck’s antlers cannot be knocked off, and the next day they can just fall off.

During the spring, it has been become quite popular to hunt for these shed antlers.

Hunters are aware that male deer fight during the mating season (also known as the rutting season). The bucks themselves know who is the head honcho by the time rutting season starts. Of course, he’s the one who will breed most of the does. The fighting is when one dominant buck enters another buck’s territory.

Bucks can still be seen sporting their antlers as late as March. A buck will not shed his antlers while still capable of breeding.

Although some antlers appear light in color, others are darker. The color of a deer’s antlers depends on what the antlers are rubbed on during the rutting season. A buck will rub or polish his antlers on small saplings.

If the small sapling is a young hemlock tree, the antlers will become darker; however, if the young sapling is an aspen or young maple tree, the antlers will be lighter.

No matter what a deer’s rack is called (horns or antlers), a male deer sporting a rack with many points will get the hunter’s heart pumping fast.

Many a hunter has told me a story that goes like this: “A nice 10-point went by me so fast I didn’t have time to get a shot.”

I often wondered how they were able to count the points.

If you go deer hunting and are not successful, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of spending a day in Penn’s Woods, which is a prize in itself.

Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 1224 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.

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