North-central Bucks Carry Racks Late

The photo of a trim mule deer buck popped into my email about two hours ago.

Taken from a distance, the image shows the buck looking straight ahead, but at a slight angle away from the camera. I couldn’t tell how many points he had on his rack, but I could see that the antlers stuck out just outside his alert ears.

Then I started thinking, ‘Hey, when was this taken? It looks almost like green-up out there.’

I emailed the bio and found out the shot was snapped just two weeks ago at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, in Okanogan County.

Wait, I thought, don’t bucks lose their antlers in winter??!?

MULE DEER, SCOTCH CREEK WILDLIFE AREA, MARCH 25. (SCOTT FITKIN, WDFW)

WDFW’s Scott Fitkin says he and others saw 10 to 12 other bucks with one or both sides of their racks still on when they did their postwinter surveys late last month.

He says he’s not sure why the deer were holding onto their headgear so late.

For that matter, neither is Woody Myers, a state Department of Fish & Wildlife ungulate researcher in Spokane.

“It’s a mystery,” he says.

A few whitetails around the Lilac City had their hats on late as well, he says.

“It’s not unusual, but it’s not the norm,” Myers says.

(After we posted this article to our Facebook page, Mathew Wildman in Springfield, Ore., responded by saying he’d just seen a four-pointer today, April 9.)

Antler drop appears to be tied to rut timing, latitude and rising hormone levels.

“It’s all geared to birth,” Myers says. “The whole timing of the rut is geared so birth occurs at the peak of spring, giving does and fawns the best forage available.”

In Washington, deer typically breed from late October into December, lose their antlers between mid-December and mid-February and have fawns in late spring and early summer.

Down in Texas, deer rut later — late December and January — so they drop later. Those in Central and South America’s verdant jungles get busy year-round and drop their racks whenever.

But antler drop is not a uniform north to south progression. Myers has seen muleys up near the Canadian border drop their racks before those in South-central Washington.

As for this year’s late racks, he says that our less severe winter may have something to do with it.

“Perhaps something has happened that’s led to testosterone levels remaining high,” he also speculates. “But I just don’t know.”

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