DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: A special treat

There’s nothing like bagging a deer with velvet antlers

There is something seriously special about wrapping your hands around velvet-covered antlers.

Perhaps it’s the rarity, or the challenge of actually finding a buck in velvet. Or maybe it’s the spirit of renewal found in the final stages of another year’s worth of bone growth.

Whatever the reason, most serious deer hunters dream of someday wrapping a tag around a beautiful set of velvet-covered antlers. There aren’t a lot of states providing the chance, but there a few. Here’s what you need to know.

Antler growth comes to an end in late summer because the blood vessels supporting them dry up, causing the velvet to die. Once dead, the velvet falls off.

According to the Quality Deer Management Association, “Decreasing photoperiod (daylight hours) in late summer triggers increasing testosterone levels, which leads to antler hardening and then velvet shedding.”

As each day becomes shorter, bucks get closer to shedding their velvet. Throughout most of the United States, this occurs from the end of August through the first two weeks of September. By Sept. 15, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a buck still sporting velvet-covered antlers.

What this means is if you want to kill a buck with velvet-covered antlers, you need to hunt in states with archery seasons that open early.

Some of the more popular whitetail deer hunting states with archery seasons that open before Sept. 15 include South Carolina (Aug. 15), Oregon (Aug. 24), North Dakota (Aug. 30), Idaho (Aug. 30), Wyoming (Sept. 1), Washington (Sept. 1), Delaware (Sept. 1), Kentucky (Sept. 7) and Montana (Sept. 7).

“Being from Illinois, where the archery season doesn’t open until Oct. 1, I’d never had the opportunity to hunt velvet bucks prior to heading to North Dakota in September 2010,” said Jason McKee, creative director for New Archery Products. “Going into that first velvet-buck hunt, I honestly wasn’t concerned with how big of a buck I might have a chance to kill. For me, I was just looking forward to experiencing something wholly new as a bowhunter.”

In late August and early September, deer are locked into a routine feeding pattern. Find a hot food source and you’ll find deer. Whether or not there’s a shooter buck in the mix is only going to be determined by scouting, which you can accomplish by glassing fields early and late in the day, and running trail cameras. Of course, if you are hunting with an outfitter who’s at least worth his weight in dirt, then he should already have an idea of the deer frequenting your hunting area.

“My first time hunting in North Dakota was quite an experience,” McKee said. “I mean, it was much different than anything I’d experienced hunting in the Midwest. There’s always the chance of seeing a monster buck back home, but out west you see quality and quantity. I saw no less than 30 deer the first evening of my hunt, and I actually killed my velvet 10-pointer the very first evening.”

There’s no end to the possible reasons why one might consider a certain buck special. Non-typicals sure stand out, as do first deer and last deer. Kill a deer with a kid, and it’ll always be remain a special trophy. Velvet bucks are just one of those special trophies.

“I’ve now been to North Dakota twice to hunt velvet bucks, and those are two hunts that really stand out for me as far as unique experiences and the memories made,” McKee said. “That first velvet 10-pointer proudly hangs next to a slew of other deer and wild game mounts, but he’s the one among them all that really stands out.”

For a chance at a real unique trophy, plan an early archery hunt in a state that opens their season prior to Sept. 15. Hang a velvet rack on the wall and you’ll have a lifelong reminder of a special experience.

See you down the trail ...

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Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.

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