Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Velvet photography

August is prime time for photographing whitetail bucks in velvet antlers. The antlers are fully developed and within days the velvet will begin to crack and peal, exposing the buck's antler crown for the current year. The shedding of velvet is a rapid event that is often completed in twenty four hours or less. Often the process is quite bloody and dramatic with bucks shaking their heads vigorously to dislodge hanging shreds. They may even drag the antlers through brush to pull the tattered velvet from the antlers. This is not however the time of year for rubbing trees with their antlers; that occurs later, during the rut.

It is believed that the development of a full set of antlers taxes the buck's body equally to a doe deer producing twin fawns. Perhaps this is why shed velvet is very quickly eaten by the buck, and on occasion, bucks will pull velvet from another buck's antlers and ingest it. All of this provides dramatic photographic images, but the process is so rapid that entire herd of captive deer may fully shed their velvet with in just a day or two.

Capturing photographic images of the process is truly challenging due to the speed of the process and the secretive nature of the bucks during the shedding. In addition, the process seems to occur more rapidly during the night. Their shyness quickly passes as the hard antlers emerge and the bucks appear eager to be seen and admired with their new head gear finery.

In Pennsylvania, most bucks have fully shed their antler velvet by mid September. Look for the process to begin by mid August and peak near the end of the month. Opportunities to observe velvet shedding are uncommon and photographs of the process especially unique.

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