Why Do Deer Shed Their Velvet?

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If you have seen deer, you have probably seen one rubbing and battering its antlers on bushes, trees, or undergrowth. It is an effort to rid its antlers of the velvet covering and in time to display the underlying bone in readiness for the rut. But why do deer shed their velvet? It is a typical process that deer must do every year called polishing or cleaning.

What’s the Purpose of Velvet Shedding?

There is more to it than peeling the velvet. It is also for scent marking and a show of dominance in readiness for the mating season. After the velvet peels off, the exposed white bone stops growing and hardens as it turns to dead bone. The velvet is a tissue that feeds nutrients to aid antler growth. When the buck feels it has grown its full size, it must shed it to make it harden its antlers. 

At first, the velvet peels in what might appear painful and gruesome, yet deer seem not to feel the pain. In the early days of shedding, the rack is just a dazzling white bone. But as days pass, the decaying dead tissue will attract many flies and turn black. Also, the process of battering and rubbing its rack on trees, bushes, vegetation, and sometimes the soil decolorizes the antlers and turns it to rustic brown. The end color ranges from black and shades of grey and brown. 

When the velvet is all gone, the bone can no longer grow or repair in case of breakages. If the deer happens to break its antlers at this stage, it will have to wait to grow another pair the following season. 

Why Do Antlers Need Velvet?

Just because antlers are living bones does not mean they are sensitive. The deer’s velvet gets its nutrients from the same nerve that supplies the deer’s eyes and ears with sensitivity. But once deer sheds the velvet off, there is no existing evidence that might suggest the exposed bone still retains its sensitivity. Even more certain in duels, it does not seem to bring pain to the deer when bucks break their antlers. 

The velvet is primarily a tissue with nerves and blood vessels to help the antlers grow each year anew. 

Velvet Shedding Process

Do Deer Bleed When They Shed Their Velvet

While growing the antlers and are still covered with velvet, the antlers can hurt, and deer will feel pain. It is common to see a buck careful not to damage the velvet when still at the growing stage and will duck and avoid hanging branches. 

If a deer knocks its antlers while it is still covered in velvet, blood will come out, and the deer will writhe in pain but only for a while.  

The velvet is not ornamental, and for the first five to six months of antler growth, it provides the antlers with nerves and blood vessels, making it a living extension of the buck. It has lots of blood vessels that concentrate on growing the antlers day and night. 

The velvet helps the antlers to grow at least half an inch every day. It is the fastest growing tissue of all mammals. Compared to the human hair, which grows at least one-inch every month, this is a huge difference. 

Is It Painful for Deer to Shed Velvet?

At the initial stages of the antler growth, the velvet cover is sensitive and will be so until the antlers reach full maturity. By the end of the growing process, the velvet dries and stops blood and nutrients. At this point, deer rubs against rough surfaces to peel off the velvet revealing the bony structure. 

As if the velvet is itchy, deer is always in a hurry to peel it all off. Often the impression we see is that of the velvet making deer uncomfortable hence must be shed immediately. The shedding of the velvet, though, appears gruesome and bloody, does not seem to bother the bucks, and will continue until all the velvet is off. 

Do Deer Eat Its Velvet?

As the end of summer approaches, the day’s length decreases, making the testosterone of male deer increase. The antlers no longer fill with blood or nutrients, and the velvet will eventually dry off. Deer can shed its velvet within a single day or less if it is determined. 

In some instances, deer can eat the shed velvet for nutrition, while others will walk away without feeding on it. It is not established why it sometimes fails to eat the velvet. 

By mid-September, most deer will have the hardened antler, but it is still common to see bucks rub their antlers on trees and bushes. Male deer rubs its rack almost 99 percent of times after shedding the velvet, making rubbing a demonstration of might or dominance besides just peeling off the velvet. 

Is Deer Velvet Worth Hunting? 

Though not popular among many hunters, it is common to see people looking for the shed deer velvet. Because of its rich nutrients, some folks hunt them for medicine. Deer velvet has lots of nutritional value, and that is why people have used it for many centuries. 

Today, there exists the velveteen supplement that comes in the form of a pill or spray. Sports professionals use it to recover from injuries, but there is no evidence that it will work on humans.  It is also for treating other illnesses from a weak immune system to high blood pressure. 


Bucks are fond of rubbing their big rack as a form of scent checking and marking. They are also determined to peel the velvet and are meticulous, ensuring that no piece remains once they start rubbing against rough surfaces. Trees are absorbent of the scents as deer use this method for odorous communication.

Shedding is a natural process that happens each year, and deer look forward to it as it is the final stage that unveils their brandished racks. After the velvet is off, the hardening process begins, and aggression and competition for does during the rut season.  

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