By this time of the year, early January, the white tailed deer are gathering in deer yards to conserve much needed energy to survive through the cold snowy winter. On one of my wildlife tracking hikes recently I walked by a deer yard (a place where deer congregate to rest and feed under the protective cover of hemlock and pine trees), I spotted this recent buck rub on a small pine tree. Fresh rubs are typically created in the rut season, November, when bucks will rub on saplings and young trees leaving behind a chemical message to other deer in the area that he is ready to take on any other buck that interferes with mating with the does. (there is urine marking involved, too, but I’ll save the details for another post).
The rut season is over by late November, so why would a buck continue to rub on a tree in mid January? Those big heavy antlers no longer serve a purpose (in the fall they are perfect armor for a burly testosterone match with another buck vying for the same doe. And bucks will kill young sapling shoots and shrubs with intense antler thrashing). In winter the blood circulation begins to stop flowing through the antlers, and the armor will eventually fall off. Rubbing on a branch or tree will ease that itchy sensation and will aid in the removal of that cumbersome piece of rich calcium.
By February most bucks are now antler-less. Those calcium and mineral rich antlers are quickly snatched up and carried away and recycled by critters that have perpetual gnawing habits, like mice and porcupines.
By spring melt, finding a shed antler is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you are lucky to find one before the rodents have, bonus! A bigger challenge is finding a matching pair of antlers. That is like winning the mega-lottery.
But given all the other great benefits to hiking in the woods, I’ll take that any day over the hope of winning the lottery. Besides, if you do find an antler in the woods, bring it home to your pups, they will love you for it!
A few closing thoughts: If you are inspired to go out in the woods and try to find deer yards, please do not get close to the deer yard or the deer. In winter and early spring all wildlife need to conserve as much energy as possible. Please leave your pets at home, especially if they are likely to chase wildlife. Just one flight run can cause an animal to loose too much conserved energy, enough that it could cause death.
As always, be mindful and respectful to property and wildlife.
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