Antler Problems That Cause Death

Steve L. from Virginia writes to ask about a shed he found. “I found a shed antler that had part of the pedicle attached to the base of the antler. Since the pedicle is part of the frontal bone, and overlays the brain, wouldn’t this cause the buck to die?”

Dr. Dave Samuel

Steve, the short answer is “probably.” What you found is caused by a bacterium that researchers have discovered on whitetails. It seems that if there is any damage to the area around the base of the antler while the buck is growing antler, there is a chance that this bacteria can cause infection. 

Sometimes the bone around the base of the antler will deteriorate over time (maybe a month, maybe a year or more), and this leads to cranial abscesses and possible death. In fact, one study in eastern Maryland showed over 20 percent of all mature bucks get these infections and die. This situation needs more research and it is going on right now. For now we know that deer, especially east of the Mississippi, have these bacteria on their head, nose and tongue, and they can impact the velvet antler, and then the hard antler. If the abscesses they cause get bad enough, the buck will die. On occasion, the bone is so deteriorated, that the antler breaks off, taking a piece of the skull with it. Obviously this is a bad situation for that buck.  

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for If you have a question for Dr. Dave, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, manager of Guide Outdoors & Social Content at to Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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