Author Richard P. Smith Records Event On Film

After years of trying to document on film the velvet shedding of an adult whitetail buck from start to finish, I finally accomplished the feat on September 4, 2012. To be present at the precise moment the buck was ready to begin the velvet shedding process, I had to spend as many hours as possible with the whitetail leading up to the time the antler covering was ready to come off.

Due to an early spring this year, which resulted in an early start of the antler growth cycle among adult bucks, I thought velvet shedding might also occur earlier than normal this year. So I started spending as much time as possible with a 2 ½-year-old 7-pointer that trusts me enough to allow me to walk with him, during the last week of August. Tagging along with him as much as possible was the only way I would be on hand when the time was right.

While walking with the buck, I would have the opportunity to observe and photograph other behavior and add to my knowledge about whitetails. Since deer spend many hours during the day bedded, much of the time I spent with the buck was boring, with me sitting on a log within view of the resting buck, watching him chew his cud and sleep. But that was the only way to keep track of him and be ready when he got up and started moving again.

I’ve endured similar velvet-shedding vigils with other bucks during previous years, but invariably missed out on being present when the event I was waiting for happened. Either I was engaged in another commitment or the buck I was monitoring lost the velvet from their antlers during hours of darkness. I did manage to film a spikehorn shedding his velvet one time, but I wanted to film a rack buck losing his velvet.

While filming the 7-point on the evening of September 3, I saw a 6-pointer that had recently shed the velvet from his antlers. As I looked for the 7-point on the morning of the 4, I was hoping he hadn’t gotten rid of his velvet overnight. When I finally spotted him about 8 a.m., I was relieved to see the velvet covering on his antlers was still intact.

A visual inspection of the velvet-covered antlers revealed a clue that the time for shedding might be near. There was a small bloody spot on the back of both beams near the bases where the velvet was starting to separate. About a half hour later, the buck walked up to a 5-inch striped maple tree and started rubbing his antlers against the trunk slowly. That was my cue to start filming. It didn’t take long for the intensity of the rubbing to increase.

Within a minute, the tree was coated with blood from the damaged antler skin. The buck stopped periodically to lick the blood from the tree trunk. As the underlying bone broke through the velvet, the buck began shaving bark from the tree.

The whitetail would rub the tree with his antlers for a while then stop and lick the blood that had been deposited on the trunk and then repeat the process. The buck also pulled loose pieces of bark free from the tree with his mouth. He really worked that tree over as the velvet peeled from his antlers.

When pieces of velvet fell to the ground from his antlers, the buck picked them up in his mouth and chewed them. I think he actually ate one piece of velvet. He chewed a larger chunk for a long time, working it in and out of his mouth a number of times before finally dropping it.

By the time the buck was done with that tree after about 20 minutes, he had peeled the bark all the way around the trunk from near the ground to a height of about three feet. Anyone seeing the rub without knowing anything about the buck that made it would think it had been made by an older buck with larger antlers. When the whitetail walked away from that tree, he had removed most of the velvet from his left antler and loosened the velvet from the right beam.

Surprisingly, the 7-point spent most of the rest of the day bedded, probably because temps reached the 80s that day. He didn’t resume the velvet shedding process until about 6:30 p.m. that evening. The buck rubbed a number of additional trees, but one about half the size of the one he worked over during the morning is where he spent most of his time ridding his antlers of much of the remaining velvet. Some of the strands of velvet were hanging down low enough that he was able to grab some of them in his mouth and chew parts of them off.

So, in this case, it took the buck much of the day to get rid of the velvet from his antlers. I showed the video I took that day during my seminars at Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend in Imlay City this year, a matter of days after capturing it. I want to thank Tony LaPratt and his wife, Lisa, for use of their laptop computer to show the video.

For more unique video I’ve taken while Walking With Whitetails, refer to my 90-minutes DVD with that title. Copies can be purchased from some sporting goods and book stores. They can also be ordered through my web site or by sending a check or money order for $24 to 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855.