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W. Va. bucks losing antlers early

December 31, 2009 at 05:16 PM

The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - On the last day of West Virginia’s muzzleloader season, Zach Adkins shot at a 10-point buck. When he saw the animal again, it had just five antler points. When he finally killed the whitetail, it had no antlers at all.

“It was kind of weird,” said Adkins, 21, of Harts. “This was the first big buck I’d ever killed. To have it (lose its antlers) sure gave me something to tell people about.”

A wildlife biologist said Adkins wouldn’t be the only hunter to endure that experience this season.

“There’s a definite biological reason for it,” said Chris Ryan, wildlife management supervisor for the state Division of Natural Resources. “When bucks are malnourished, they tend to shed their antlers earlier than usual.”

When food is plentiful, male whitetails retain their antlers well into January or later. When food is scarce, they sometimes begin shedding them in December.

“This year, we had the worst (crop of nuts and other wildlife foods) in the last 40 years. A lot of bucks are going to be shedding their antlers early,” Ryan said.

Adkins took his trophy-turned-antlerless-deer while home on Christmas break from his studies at West Virginia State University. A two-day snowstorm had dumped 18 inches of snow on the ground, and the Adkins resolved to take advantage.

“At first I thought I’d just take a shotgun and try to kick up a grouse or some rabbits. At the last minute, I decided to take my muzzleloader and look for deer,” he said.

With snow choking the area’s narrow, twisting roads, Adkins and two relatives chose four-wheelers for transportation. They headed for a spot known to produce big-antlered deer, five miles away through the steep-sided hills of southern Lincoln County.

“That was a long, cold ride,” Adkins recalled. “We had just gotten off the four-wheelers, about 200 yards down from the ridge. My brother-in-law, who wasn’t hunting, decided to walk up tow ard the ridge and check out the view.

“He came back waving his arms. He said there was a big buck bedded down just over the ridge. I snuck up there and peeked over the ridge, and there it was. I figured I had to shoot through the snow to hit the vitals, but I still held too high. The bullet ended up only grazing the deer’s shoulders.”

The buck sprinted away down the mountainside. Adkins loaded another bullet into his rifle and started following the deer’s tracks.

“I tracked it about a quarter mile down into the hollow before I finally caught sight of it again,” Adkins recalled. “I was starting to squeeze the shot off when I realized I couldn’t see any antlers. But then the buck turned its head and I could see half a rack. I figured this deer was the one I’d shot at, and I squeezed the trigger. The buck ran about 40 yards before it piled up, and its remaining antler dropped off about 10 feet before it fell.”

Adkins figured he could find the other half of the buck’s rack if he simply followed the animal’s tracks back up the mountain. He found it not far from where the buck had been bedded down.

“I had actually stepped on the antler as I tracked the buck down the hill,” he said. “When I came back, the tip of one of its tines was sticking out of the snow next to one of my boot tracks.”

Adkins posted his story on the Hunting Forum of the Web site. Within hours, two people chimed in with similar experiences. The DNR’s Ryan said his boss had experienced the phenomenon as well.

“Last week, (DNR Director Frank Jezioro) told me he’d been watching a couple of bucks all year, and both of them already were down to half a rack apiece.”

Ryan said bowhunters who hope to bag a trophy before year’s end had best get cracking.

“You don’t want a buck to lose an antler after you shoot it,” he said. “Even if you recover the antler, the rack can’t be officially scored. Both antlers have to be attached to the buck’s head before the Pope & Young Club will recognize it.”

Adkins said he hadn’t planned to have his buck scored anyway. “The biggest buck I’d taken before this was a small six-pointer. Whether it can be scored or not, I’m just happy to get a big one under my belt.”

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