The 2017 archery season saw an increase in the number of bucks killed with antlers still in either full velvet or at least partially covered in the hair-like membrane of skin that carries blood and nutrients to growing antlers until they are fully calcified.
When the antlers have completed growth and solidified, blood flow ceases and the velvet dies and begins to peel. The peeling process can take anywhere from mere hours to days, even a week or more. The timing can depend on the buck’s personality, in that, if he is at peak maturity and strength, he can speed the process by raising his head into branches of trees or rubbing the antlers against smaller trees.
It can be a bloody mess.
But a delayed process, for whatever reason, can also produce beautiful trophies. A buck taken in early October in full velvet makes a splendid mount.
Most archery seasons see a few velvet trophies, but 2017 produced more than just a few. For the first two or three weeks of the archery season, the stories were commonplace, including multiple kills and repeated trail-cam photos. Casey Tebow’s 128-inch Madison County 8-point was his first in full velvet.
“I’ve been hunting for 24 years, and I’ve never killed one in velvet before,” said Tebow, who killed the buck on Oct. 3. He’s only had one other chance — and that was a half-hour earlier.
“It’s crazy, but 30 minutes before I shot this one, I missed a bigger one that was still in full velvet,” Tebow said. “It was a weird year. Our trail cams have a lot of photos of bucks, and all our young bucks are out of velvet totally. But all of our bigger bucks, the shooters we’ve identified, they’re all still in velvet. Best we can figure is that the 15-day cool snap we had early in September must have something to do with it. That’s all we can think of.”
Paul Autry hunts the Big Black River bottoms in western Hinds County; he said most of the bucks captured on trail cams were still in full velvet in mid-September before the 2017 season when he quit checking cameras.
“I figured the velvet would be gone, as it usually is by bow season,” he said. “Then, on the first weekend, every buck I saw was either in full velvet or was in the process of losing it. I’ve always seen one of two bucks still in partial velvet in bow season. Last year was different.
“I saw about 12 to 15 bucks close enough to glass, from yearling spikes to mature racks, and very few of them had clean antlers. The biggest, a tall and wide 10-point I was hunting, was in full velvet and lucky he never crossed the 40-yard threshold.”
Tommy Burns of Southaven reported a similar story in north Mississippi from his Desoto County camp.
“First three bucks I saw — none of which were shooters but all at least 2- or 3-year-old 8 points — were in velvet,” he said. “The 9-point shooter that I was hunting came out at 70 yards and was carrying streamers of velvet blowing in the wind. We had five hunters opening weekend, and all of them reported seeing bucks in full velvet, but the only buck killed, by a young girl with a crossbow, was a 6-point cull deer without a speck of velvet anywhere. We all thought it was weird. The smaller deer were the cleaner deer."