In a thread from a month ago, staining caribou antlers was mentioned. I've never seen antlers that were stained that looked natural, maybe I've seen some that were done well and didn't realize they were stained, I don't know. This got me thinking, how does an antler get it's color naturally? I always assumed they got their color from rubbing on trees, brush, and dirt. I figured it would be pretty simple to duplicate the process using limbs to rub the antlers, are you with me? Well, as luck would have it, one day recently I found myself in possession of a set of still warm, velvet covered caribou antlers with high hopes of rubbing the white out of them and coming up with a great new antler coloring method and becoming everyone’s hero! Well folks it don't work. I washed off all the blood and rubbed with branches for all I was worth and very little color was imparted to the antlers. Hmm, I was stumped but came up with a plan. The very next day another set of caribou antlers presented themselves only 150 yards from the tent in which I was sleeping. Luckily my bladder was alerted and awakened me to this fact, so utilizing my many years of acquired hunting skills and wisdom I unzipped (the tent), and convinced the aforementioned antlers that they should remain with me. This time instead of washing the blood off the antlers when the velvet was stripped I rubbed the blood around and made sure the antlers were completely covered. When I got home I experimented with different ways to rub in and polish the blood and here's what I found.
Antlers get the vast majority of their color from blood, not from rubbing trees like your grandpa told you, grandpa was full of BS. I spent awhile rubbing and polishing the antlers with water, green scrubbers, and spruce branches. Some areas were very light so I added some blood donated by a local squirrel and kept working at it. I used a set of natural slick antlers as an example for color and color distribution. When I was done I had spent about six hours and the antlers are indistinguishable from real natural slick antlers. I showed them to many people and nobody could tell that they were not naturally colored.
Here are a few details.
1. On the antlers I used, most of the bone was smooth and fully formed but there were a few spots that obviously had a few days of growing to do and the surface was porous. These areas readily absorbed the blood and were difficult to lighten the color. If you kill a caribou very early when the whole antler is still growing, the antler will turn out dark if done this way.
2. Rubbing the blood with spruce branches, or a small piece of lumber, turned the blood from red to brown. Whether it is the heat and friction or a chemical thing, I don't know.
3. I checked some deer, moose and elk antlers and looking closely it was obvious that the color was of the same origin.
4. I think sometimes rubbing trees can be more important in adding color. When looked at closely it is obvious that there is pine sap imbedded around the very dark bases on some of my whitetail antlers where they really rub hard, so I am not completely discounting vegetation in coloring antlers. However, I think it plays a minor part
5. On parts of antlers where the animal rubs hard such as tips and crotches, the coloring is rubbed off and they become much lighter.
6. The grooves on antlers where the large veins were are naturally light in color. Using my method, these grooves are very dark. Here's another of my crackpot theories. If the velvet is left to die naturally the walls of these large blood vessels prevent blood from adhering to these grooves and when the velvet comes off the grooves are left white. As you rub the blood around using my method the grooves are filled with blood and become darker than the rest of the antler. This is easily cured by scraping the blood out of these grooves when finished.
Well there it is. I am open to any questions you might have. Maybe you think I am as full of BS as I accused grandpa of being, it won't be the first time! If someone wants to see a picture, you'll have to explain a real simple way to make that happen.
I believe the major factor in antler coloration is what type of tree or bush an animal rubs after the velvet is off, and how much rubbing they do. Different plants have different tannic acids in their sap and that affects the coloration of the antlers. I've found antlers from areas where deer use a lot of alder for their rubs to be a reddish brown, areas with lots of conifers like hemlock and fir will have a deep brown coloration. Places like the south end of Kodiak where sometimes all deer have to rub on is scrub willow will have a very light tan coloration. The more rubbing and thence more sap they rub into their antlers intensifies the color. And of course some animals rub their antlers on different kinds of trees and bushes not just one particular kind.
Ive even taken animals on Kodiak and in Prince William Sound that have a greenish tint that I attribute to the amount of rain they live in some years.
Oh yee unbelievers! I used to hold your opinions but I have seen the light. As I said earlier, I agree that vegetation affects the antler color but the color is mainly blood. If you think the color comes from vegetation, the next time you get an antler in velvet, clean it and start rubbing it with vegetation and see how long it takes to give color to the antler. I did it a few weeks ago and reported the results above. As to the green coloration, it comes from this years green growth on bushes such as willow, I've tried it, and it adds a green tint to the the antlers, but the primary coloration is still from blood.
Grandpa told me...
I don't know a whole lot about caribou antlers, but you got me thinking when you mentioned "when the velvet falls off". I've never heard of the velvet on a whitetail "falling off". I always assumed, because Grandpa told me, that the velvet begins to itch and the deer rub their antlers on the trees to scratch them and thus rubs off the velvet. It sounded like a perfectly good explanation as a kid, but boy, it sure sounds like a far-fetched story when I write it! I have sinced learned more about a bucks aggression and how hormonal/chemical imbalances impede their actions.
As for the color. It is my experience that older/bigger bucks have darker colored antlers than younger/smaller bucks. I've also noticed that swamp-bucks tend to have darker antlers (and hide) than field/open-country bucks.
I'll buy into your story about the blood thing Bear...and I think it only makes sense that some "accents" of color are attributed to the rubbing of different vegetation on the antlers, but I am now really curious about this whole velvet thing...someone please enlighted me
I maintain that if blood was the major factor in antler coloration then most antlers would be one color. If it was blood, then why do different areas have predominately one color compared to other areas. The major difference isn't the blood, That woulds be the same in all animals of a species, it's the vegetation in the area compared to the vegetation in a different area.
BNR, I guess "falling off" was probably not the best term for velvet removal. When blood flow is cut off to the antlers the velvet dies and they may itch, I don't know, I don't imagine anyone does. When an animal starts rubbing the velvet it is very soft and comes off quickly, and doesn't seem to take much thrashing in brush to get most of it off. I've watched mule deer, whitetail, blacktail, elk, and caribou remove velvet and they all seem to prefer to thrash in brushto do this, serious rubbing on trees seems to occur later when they are entering the rut. Most of the color is in the antler once the velvet is gone and the antlers are dry, although they do darken once they start serious rubbing later.
Twodux, again, I agree that vegetation affects the color of the antler but it is mainly the blood that accepts the new color, not the antler. If you think that the color comes from tannin being rubbed into the antler then It would stand to reason that the most color would be imparted to the areas that recieved the most rubbing, right? If you've ever watched an animal rub on small trees you've seen that it catches the trees in crotches in the antler and rubs the heck out of it, right? Then why is the web in the forward and top facing crotches a highly polished white, they should be the darkest shouldn't they?
If it is blood, then why are the antlers on a moose in September a light tan color (all the velvet and blood are already off and gone) and then come November the antlers area a beautiful deep dark brown? There is no way possible that it came from the blood as the flow was stopped when the velvet had fallen off. The antlers on moose and caribou darken as the fall progresses and there surely isn't any blood flow. I have to stick with the theory that the trees, etc. must affect the color, especially later in the fall (November) when they are a deep chocolate color.
Thanks all for the comments, I certainly don't claim to have all the answers but I am trying to get them and welcome your help.
Northway, I understand what you are saying and I think vegetation plays a part in changing the color of the blood and also adds some color of it's own. I also think blood darkens with age, have you ever noticed a blood stain on anything eventually turns black? Here's a question for anyone out there. If you think all he color comes from vegetation then deer and elk raised in pens with no vegetation to rub on wouldn't have much color to their antlers, do you agree?
And if you look at pictures of said truly penned antlered game, they do have more whitish antlers. I believe that yes, while the blood contributes to the color, the vegetation is more important.
Curious as to how you did your "thrashing". I have seen other antlers stained with a rub on plants and mud type process that have worked beautifully.
I did not thrash the antlers, I cut branches from available shrubs and rubbed spots on the antlers trying to color antlers, but to no avail. I think juices in the plants may chemically affect the blood and change it's color. I'll see if I can figure out how to get pictures on here and post some pictures of the antlers I did and some natural antlers. Who thinks they can pick out which are which? Any wagers?