Why Bucks have Velvet in the Winter

The Herd: Bucks in velvet

2/28/2021
Keegan Ziemer

You’ve probably noticed the cycle of a typical whitetail/mule deer buck. Beginning in early spring (usually while turkey hunting) we catch our first first glimpse of the formation of the current years antlers. As spring turns to summer we start to notice more bucks in fields & green basins feeding in their “bachelor groups”. By end of summer – antler development is really starting to take form and it’s not uncommon to see 5-10 bucks hanging out in groups. As we turn the corner into fall, bucks become more territorial and begin to split from their groups and shortly after their antlers begin to harden as they shed their velvet by rubbing trees to spread scent and mark their territory.

If you were to take a survey of deer hunters in the US, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that shooting a buck in velvet is likely on the bucket list of nearly every single one of them. Finding success in this feat is an entirely different story. Though some states offer a season early enough to present a hunter with the opportunity at a buck still in velvet most hunters will go a lifetime without ever being presented this opportunity. That being said, It seems that every year we see a picture of another successful hunter in October or November who’s knocked down a buck still holding onto his velvet.

So why do some bucks hold their velvet throughout the season while the rest rub trees and shed theirs as the season changes and breeding season approaches? Well, it all has to do with their testosterone production – more specifically the lack thereof which is commonly known as a “stag buck” or scientifically – a cryptorchid buck. There are a couple reasons for the existence of a cryptorchid buck.

1. BORN THAT WAY

According to Biologist, Joe Hamilton of The National Deer Association, “This condition in whitetail bucks that results in antlers in velvet beyond the normal velvet-shedding date of late August to early September is usually caused by a birth defect known as cryptorchidism.”. This lack of testosterone will cause the buck to remain in the velvet stage for the rest of their life as their attitudes don’t change meaning they; don’t become territorial; don’t feel the need to breed; thus they don’t feel the need to rub in order to spread scent for deer in the area. Instead, a cryptorchid buck will spend the rest of his life in velvet. While in this state the bucks antlers will continue to grow but he won’t shed his velvet or drop his antlers on a year to year basis – oftentimes these “stag bucks” also grow non-typical frames with abnormally large bases due to the access points that begin forming there.

2. AN ACCIDENT

Bucks can go through the normal cycle for many years of their life but an accident to the scrotum or testicles can cause them to halt testosterone production and remain in the velvet stage. More times than not, this happens to a buck while jumping a fence and getting his manhood clipped via momentum. It can also happen while fighting with another deer, getting struck by a car. Once this castration has occurred the buck will slowly stop producing the normal testosterone and will no longer go through the process of a typical buck.

Conclusion:

If you’re ever hunting October-November and happen to come across a buck still in velvet now you know why and have a better understanding just how rare that opportunity is. Shoot straight.