Nothing wasted in those fallen antlers

Nothing wasted in those fallen antlers

Of the many treasures one may seek in the springtime woods, the fallen antlers of the white-tailed deer are perhaps the least ephemeral. Wildflowers spring forth, blossom with delicate beauty and then drop their petals to spend the rest of the season as just another shade of green on the forest floor. Our favorite fungi follow much the same timeline. Morels punch up through the duff, wave a fleeting hello to fools like me who could walk right by a bushel basket of them without noticing and then sink back into the soil as an undiscovered delicacy.

While deer antlers spend only a single season on the head of their host, they can make it a good, long time laying on the forest floor. As animal tissues go, antlers are second only to teeth in terms of hardness and durability when faced with going to pieces on the ground. That means if left on their own, an antler could spend years on the forest floor — but don’t think for a minute that a fallen deer antler or “shed” is apt to be left alone.

The male white-tailed deer spends an enormous amount of time and energy in the production of that fancy rack. Wildlife biologists have spent forever studying the “return on investment” for the buck. A large, well-appointed rack isn’t only a useful tool in sparring for the affections of available does, but also it’s a great indicator of good genetics — genetics that have driven the buck to gather the right resources at the right time to build bone at the fastest rate in the animal kingdom. He deserves those does, and he’s got the bones to prove it — at least for as long as it takes to pass those premium genes along.

Once the rut is done, those antlers become more of a burden than an advantage. A drop in testosterone triggers a process that ends with the sheds dropping to the ground — and the buck almost immediately starts growing a new and improved pair.

In a fully natural system, nothing goes to waste in the wild world. Those antlers, heavy with calcium and phosphorus, also contain smaller amounts of sodium, magnesium and various other trace minerals that are tough to come by in the diet of many of the smaller creatures of the woods.

Add to that the fact that rodents, the largest order of mammals and easily most abundant in Ohio, must gnaw continuously to keep their incisors (those long, flat teeth at the front of their mouths) both sharp and short enough to keep from punching holes in their skulls. The combination of both the physical need to gnaw and the dietary bonus of chewing something that actually contains a concentrated dose of the very vitamins and minerals a creature needs to live a great life makes a deer antler in the leaves one of the most sought-after items in the woods for mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and the rest of the long-tooths of the forest. Raccoon, fox, coyote and your own dog aren’t likely to pass up an antler as an entertaining and nutritious treat either.

The point of my story is this: If you’re a shed hunter, you’ve got a lot of competition out there. But whether or not you find the crown of that monster buck you’ve been watching for years on your trail cam, you can rest assured it won’t be going to waste wherever it has fallen — and the big fellow is already working on an even more spectacular one!

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