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Science of Whitetail Antlers: Big Questions Answered

Huge antlers take a combination of age, genetics and nutrition. No better example of this is the Tony Lovstuen buck, an Iowa giant shot back in Sept. 2003. The buck scored 307 5/8-inches, making it the largest whitetail ever shot. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Huge antlers take a combination of age, genetics and nutrition. No better example of this is the Tony Lovstuen buck, an Iowa giant shot back in Sept. 2003. The buck scored 307 5/8-inches, making it the largest whitetail ever shot. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

As long as humans have hunted deer, we’ve been fascinated by antlers. Our ancestors have used them as tools, weapons, medicines, decorations and ceremonial symbols in tribal rituals. We’ve even used them as alleged aphrodisiacs. Today, hunters spend millions of dollars and countless hours in search of the biggest antlers.

But even with our long history of antler worship, many antler questions remain. What exactly are antlers? How do they grow and develop? What’s their purpose? What influences antler size?

Antlers are special – and not just because they’re a source of bragging rights among deer hunters. Antlers are one of the fastest-growing tissues known to man, rivaled only by some forms of cancer. Because of their unique properties, scientists study antlers in hopes of finding potential treatments and perhaps one day a cure for cancer.

The rapid growth of antlers – about 1/8 inch per day – also makes them a source of interest for researchers looking into treatments and cures for other maladies such as osteoarthritis. They’re also a tissue of interest for research into organ and limb regeneration.

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STARTING OCT 15
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