Bull elk with large antlers in velvet, 22 July 2015 (photo by Paul Staniszewski)
When you see elk antlers and realize they’re shed and regrown every year, it makes you wonder, “How fast do these antlers grow?”
Antlers are a key component of the elk’s (Cervus canadensis) reproductive cycle. Only males have them and they use them to fight over mating rights. Sometimes a bull’s body and antler size are enough to intimidate a smaller male but if no one backs down they fight head to head — and can be seriously injured in the contest.
Bulls shed their antlers in early winter so every male starts with a bare head in the spring and grows a complete set by mid August when the rut begins.
Here’s a typical bull on May 30 with short antlers in thick velvet, photographed by Paul Staniszewski in Elk County, Pennsylvania. The velvet is a soft layer of highly vascularised skin that protects the growing bone.
Bull elk with growing antlers, 30 May 2015 (photo by Paul Staniszewski)
Only 53 days later, on July 22, the antlers are still in velvet but nearly done growing as shown at the top of this article.
Just before the rut begins the antlers stop growing and the males rub off the velvet against shrubs and trees to shed the dead skin. Below, a bull has shed all his velvet except for a bit hanging from the tip.
His antler velvet is nearly gone as this bull elk reaches to eat a pear, 22 August 2015 (photo by Paul Staniszewski)
When complete the rack weighs 25 to 40 pounds and can be 3.9 feet long with a span 5 feet wide. To reach this size the bone grows nearly an inch a day!
And now, in mid-August, the rut begins.
Two bull elk sparring (photo by Paul Staniszewski)
If you’d like to see elk sparring visit Elk County, PA from mid-August to October. Learn more here at the Elk Country Visitors’ Center website.
(photos by Paul Staniszewski)