PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Outdoors

August 8, 2012

CHESTER MOORE: The value of antlers

Chester Moore, Jr. Outdoors Column for Aug. 9, 2012

PORT ARTHUR — Antlers changed Ken Swenson’s life.

The Orangefield resident has hunted his whole life but a few years ago, he became aware of the ultra large-antlered whitetail bucks that were being selectively bred and sold in the deer market.

“I saw these giant bucks and said, ‘I want in’ and my family and I have invested a lot of time, money and our passion into starting a high quality deer operation right here in Southeast Texas,” Swenson said.

He and his family have been kind enough to host me and a variety of kids from my church and their ranch to feed, photograph and interact with a host of animals ranging from their whitetails to corsican rams.

Last week my wife Lisa and I and our friend Tracy Ellis and her daughter Ashlyn took our pastor’s daughters Abby and Rachel Rose out to the ranch for the afternoon.

As the nine-year-old twins fed “Bucky”, a massive young buck I told the girls the difference between antlers and horns and how the buck’s horns are still growing and in velvet now.

They marveled at the fact the buck that was friendly now would not be approachable in a couple of months when the rut kicked in and they antlers would be used to defend territory.

Watching the girls marvel at the antlers really got me to thinking about the value of antlers.

The Swensons and other deer breeders across the state along with ranch owners bank antlers to attract people who are willing to pay for access to antlers. All of the hard work that goes into ranching and breeding deer and managing property essentially center around antlers.

Deer hunting is of course about much more than that but there is no way it would be nearly as popular if bucks were antlerless.

Antlers intrigue people.

Abby and Rachel were captivated by the growth of the antlers and how they were soft now but would soon be super hard.

Growing up I was intrigued that once antlers were shed in the spring, they became food for squirrels, mice and other rodents who gnaw on them for their calcium content.

My father, Chester Moore, Sr. was and still is blown away by bucks with unusual and wide racks. His favorites are those that go straight out past the ears or have as he calls them, “Christmas tree” tracks.

He said he calls them that because, “You could hang a bunch of ornaments off of them.”

East Texas hunters tend to be a little more practical than most and there is a common saying that says, “You can’t eat antlers.”

What that means is the backstrap and hams are the most important part of the deer to them and as someone who is essentially a meat hunter, I agree, however I would be lying if I said antlers did not excite me and in some ways to a great extent.

Last year I shot the best buck of my life on a managed low-fence area with Diamond M Whitetails and it was one of the rare times in my life when the antlers grew as I approached the buck.

Most of the time hunters shot a buck and what looked large at a distance, got smaller once it hit the ground and it was time to get it field dressed.

This buck however kept growing and I was happy to call back and report the good news to my Dad.

He knew fried backstrap was now on the menu but the antlers were the center of the conversation.

And they usually are at every hunting camp around the state.

As happy as hunters are to take a doe for meat, no one talks for hours on end about the mature doe that yielded a bunch of meat. It is all about monster bucks and usually the one that got away or they captured on their game camera.

Believe it or not, we are only a little over six weeks away from the archery-only whitetail season opener.

That means the antlers of the bucks in our region and beyond are hardening up and realizing their full potential this year. Rain, range conditions and of course age will factor in how big the individual antlers will be and hunters are already speculating on what they expect at their leases.

Thinking about watching those girls with “Bucky” last week made me realize, hunters are not much different than kids when it comes to antlers. They put smiles on faces and bring up lots of fun conversation.

The secret to happiness in life is retaining childlike faith and a sense of wonder and if we forget about record books, big buck contests and all of those other fun things just for a second it is easy to see antlers in those of us who truly appreciate whitetails.

Antlers are just plain cool and if we are not ashamed to admit it, they bring out the kid in all of us.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at  cmooreoutdoors@yahoo.com. You can hear him on "Moore Outdoors" Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI. you can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/extremewildlife.)

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