Talkin' Outdoors

Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t know if Lewis used a banned performance enhancing substance like has been claimed in the news this past week. He said he didn’t and the fact that he was pretty much a non-factor in the Ravens’ victory validates his claim.

The banned substance that has made all the news is a product provided by Sports With Alternatives to Steroids, or SWATS. The National Football League identifies a product found in the substance as IGF-1, a banned performance enhancing drug.

So what interest does an outdoor writer have in something related to football? It’s where the banned substance originates that has piqued my interest….the antlers of a deer. Actually, it’s not the antlers but the velvet covering the antlers during the growing process. Sharing information on the function of deer antler velvet is in order because it ties this material from the wild to athletes looking for an edge to enhance their performance.

Here’s what happens in the world of the deer. Buck deer drop their antlers in late winter or early spring. Soon after losing their headgear, they start growing a new set of antlers they’ll have until this time next year. This new set begins as fuzzy knobs growing on the pedicles which are located on the buck’s head between his eyes and ears. The newly formed antlers are soft and subject to damage and for this reason, bucks are protective of this new growth.

A couple of months before shedding antlers, bucks use them to hook and thrash bushes, brush and small saplings and to fight other bucks to establish dominance. Bushes and bucks are in no danger of being gored and thrashed in spring and summer because he is protecting his newly forming soft antlers.

The velvet surrounding this new growth is a phenomenal material and it takes little imagination for the light bulb to go on in companies that produce performance enhancing drugs to realize what this soft velvet does to deer antlers.

According to a source I read about the growth of deer antlers, velvet is described as “vascular skin that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone.” This amazing material causes the antler it covers to grow at an amazing rate. In fact, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone. This fast rate of growth actually is a handicap to a buck because of the incredible nutritional demand on deer to re-grow antlers annually.

Once the antlers achieve their full potential for the year, usually by mid-September in our part of the world, the velvet has served its purpose and as it dries and is rubbed off on bushes by the buck, the antler bone actually dies and here’s something I read that gave me pause. What deer hunters see when that big buck comes slipping by the stand is an animal sporting a head full of dead bone. Who knew?

There is no doubt that deer antler velvet is an amazing material and apparently, some are acquiring velvet, drying it, pulverizing it and converting into a spray or pill or patch to improve an athlete’s performance.

My question is this; how the heck do you get your hands on antler velvet? My only guess is from deer living in enclosed pens. You’re not going to find it in the woods where bucks hang out this time of year. Shed antlers maybe.

Antler velvet, not a chance.

I find myself interested in acquiring a bottle of this deer antler velvet stuff. I’m wondering if I sprayed it on the head of the doe I got last season, would it magically become a nice 8-point buck? Not bloody likely. A better use would be to spray it on my head. Maybe my deer hunting performance would be enhanced.