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How well do you know your big-game antlers? Here are 6 things hunters should know about headgear


Factors such as age, genetics, nutrition, disease and injury can lead to atypical antlers (Photo: Tony LePrieur)


Each male has right and left antlers, which are normally similar in appearance, but seldom identical. The differences may not be dramatic—often an extra small point or two on one side—but occasionally there are some really bizarre configurations. The main factors determining normal and abnormal antler growth are age, genetics, nutrition, disease and injury.

A young male cervid begins with simple antlers that become increasingly larger and heavier each year. A three-year-old carries antlers that are about two thirds of their growth potential; a five-year-old is fully mature with probably his biggest rack. By age seven or eight, a male is past his prime and his antlers begin to regress, each year getting shorter, thicker and more malformed.


A male’s genetic background plays a role in the overall size and configuration of his antlers, and therefore the trophy value. Antler growth may also be affected by the forage quality during the growth period, as the process demands a lot of energy and specific nutrients. However, the most common cause of abnormal antlers is injury.

The most common cause of abnormal antlers is injury

Most of the antler growth is at the tips, so any damage to a growing tip, especially early in the growth period, will affect the shape of that antler. Injury to the pedicle, meanwhile, can cause a small or malformed third antler to grow elsewhere on the skull. In fact, scientists have grafted pedicle cells to other areas of a cervid’s body, where rudimentary antlers then grew.

One interesting potential cause of an abnormal antler is injury to a back leg. For reasons not fully understood, a leg injury can seriously affect the growth of the antler on the opposite side of the animal (that is, an injury to left leg affects the right antler). Antler abnormalities caused by injury usually appear that season only, and are seldom carried over to the next set of antlers.