Know Your Antlers

A quick guide to antler spotting in the wild.

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Discovering an antler among the fall leaves or sticking out of the snow is a rare treat. Your inclination is to strap it to your pack and head home. But in some areas, like national parks, it’s illegal to remove antlers, or anything else for that matter. In other locales, it’s a courtesy to leave antlers so the plants, soil, and rodents can reabsorb the calcium and other nutrients found in the decaying bone.

You can take the time to stop and admire the beauty of these spears, though, and identify who dropped them.


Range: Along the Rocky Mountains, with isolated populations in Penn-sylvania, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Washington, and California

Distinguishing antler feature:

One large beam

that sweeps up and back and sports

up to seven tines.

White-tailed Deer

Range: Most of United States, except for desert Southwest

Distinguishing antler feature:

A single shaft that curves back and out, and features several tines.

Mule Deer

Range: The Rockies and to the west

Distinguishing antler feature: Antler splits into

a Y, with another tine sprouting off each branch of the Y, forming at least four tines.


Range: Northern boreal forests and tundra from Maine to Washington; throughout the Cascades

Distinguishing antler feature:

Bowl-shaped mass with up

to 10 webbed tines.


(also known as reindeer)

Range: Tundra of Alaska; isolated population in the Cascades

Distinguishing antler feature:

L-shaped; males have tines over the brow and females do not.