2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – September 2000

Antlers: A Crowning Glory

On the hoof, antlers and horns are a regal sight. Once discarded, they speak volumes about the former owner.

by: Jeff Rennicke

PAGE 1 2

Late fall mornings like this one, with frost painted like icing on every fallen leaf and a sky as clear as mountain water, usually inspire awe and contentment. But all I feel is fear. A few minutes ago, the silence of the morning was broken by a thrashing in the brush and a snort. I'm camped on a high bench in the middle of Montana's grizzly country, so my first thought is "bear." I stare hard into the brush, and wait.

Leaves shiver violently as the animal tramples through the brush. Suddenly, a bull elk lurches into the clearing, a beam of morning sunshine shimmering off its antlers. Branches and stems of grass dangle from the tines, clues to the rustling sounds. He was thrashing against the bushes, trying to remove the velvety coating hanging from his antlers. The rack, at least 4 feet across and branched in four tines per side, looks like--there's no other word for it--a crown.

"The moose is larger, the bear more powerful, the mountain lion more mysterious, and the whitetail more graceful," Doug Peacock wrote in Among the Elk, "but the bull (elk) certainly the most regal of North America's great wild creatures. And his crowning glory is a magnificent rack of antlers."

A true crown of antlers is found only on members of the deer family--moose, elk, caribou, and, of course, deer. Unlike horns, which are bone covered with keratin (the same stuff as fingernails and claws) and continue to grow throughout an animal's life, antlers are purely bone and are shed and regrown every year.

It is a process that begins in spring. As the days lengthen, the testosterone level of the males begins to rise. Small swellings appear on the "pedicels" -- the bumps atop the skulls of males. In the lushness of summer, the antlers grow as much as half an inch a day, for one of the fastest bone-growth rates in nature. Moose antlers grow even faster, as much as three-fourths of an inch in that time.

A fuzzy brown skin known as velvet protects, nourishes, and fuels these growing bones with a multitude of blood vessels. Because the antlers are living material, they're sensitive during the growing stage, so the animals avoid knocking them against trees or damaging them. It was once thought that an animal could be aged simply by counting the number of tines, or points on its antlers. It is not that simple. Horned animals, like bighorn sheep and musk ox, do add a layer to their horns each year, like a tree ring. But the size and shape of antlers in deer, elk, moose, and caribou are affected by a combination of factors, including genetics, health, nutrition, and age.

PAGE 1 2

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Burger King moving headquarters to Canada
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
Trailhead Register
Knee Defender Caused Airline to Divert Flight
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: retired reddog

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions