Active management can help bucks grow better antlers this summer

Published 2:01 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Velvet nubs are starting to be visible on the heads of male white-tailed deer. Bucks typically shed their antlers by February and March and technically the growing cycle starts three weeks after shedding.

Antler growth is slow in April and May but by June and July growing rates spike with a noticeable difference especially in older bucks. Beam length can be increased by 2 inches each week from June to July and by September the antler becomes hardened and the velvet is rubbed off by bucks. 

Management practices to create needed forbs, browse, mineral stumps and supplemental food plots are crucial right now to ensure bucks have the nutrition they need to grow bigger, stronger and better antlers. Mississippi State University’s Deer Lab reports bucks need to take in an average of 16 percent protein from spring through summer to achieve “optimal antler growth.” 

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Minerals are also important as bucks need calcium and phosphorus for antler growth but many get these minerals from mobilization. Calcium and phosphorus are mobilized from skeletal sites such as rib bones during mobilization and used in antler production. Proper management of habitat to promote forbs and browse helps provide minerals needed to grow antlers but food plots will add icing to the cake. 

Disturbance through disking or fire can promote early successional plant communities with plenty of good food for deer to eat in perennials and other broadleaf plants. Thinning of the midstory can help get sunlight to the forest floor to promote growth and produce mineral stumps as shoots of the tree try to regrow. Prescribed fire is one way to thin the mid-story this time of year as top killed trees will resprout. 

A chainsaw or axe is another tool used to open up the midstory and provide nutrition. Trees, including less desirable species like sweet gums or hickories to deer, will re-sprout when cut and those sprouts contain more nutrition as trees invest more resources to get back up in the canopy. It becomes important later in summer as vegetation begins to become woody for the onset of autumn to spark regrowth.

Stump sprouts and areas where deer find minerals will become an attractant during the velvet season, Sept. 15 to Sept. 17. Mississippi’s velvet season is a archery only, buck only season and hunters must submit samples from all harvested deer for Chronic Disease Testing. Regular Archery season will open on September 30 due to October 1 being on a Sunday this year.

It is not too late for hunters to plant cowpeas, vetch, alyce clover and soybeans in food plots to carry deer through the last part of summer. These can all be planted between May 1 to June 15. Some warm season plots can be planted as late as July.