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Should Enormous Deer Antlers Count as Hunting Trophies?

Classic, non-freak antlers

Classic, non-freak antlers

Trophy Antlers

People like to hunt trophy bucks with large antlers. The idea is that only the largest, fittest and older bucks have large antlers. The deer that have successfully eluded hunters for many years and so are presumably the hardest to bag. In any deer population, local hunters tend to focus on bagging good animals and trophies, and tourist hunters will select deer with large antlers. Data supports the idea that within each deer species large antlers are generally found on large deer, with genetic variation playing a fairly small role.

Hunters want trophies with the largest antlers possible.

Hunters want trophies with the largest antlers possible.

Because ability in the hunt is tied to masculinity and nobility, large trophy antlers appear in heraldry as crests of many important and royal families. And large antlers were frequently given as diplomatic gifts. But there is some debate about the ethics of hunting deer with freak antlers that are large for reasons other than good health and advanced age.

Natural Freaks

Hunters and naturalists have always been interested in antlers that are freakishly large. These are curiosities that are reported in both scientific journals and online hunting forums. (For example, the illustration shown below).

 Hamilton, General Douglas (1892)

Hamilton, General Douglas (1892)


Antlers can show abnormal growth due to the development of tumors, however this typically results in toughly spherical or mushroom-shaped growths and is often fatal in the wild (Monk et al, 2014) where it occurs mainly with older stags. This growth pattern can be sparked off in domesticated deer by castration (Gross et al, 2014).

This type of fleshy, bulbous malformation is something called a "peruke growth" or "perruque head." This is a French term for a wig, as when the deer is in velvet these malformations can look a little like a fancy french wig or furry helmet.

Antler Scoring

As with a lot of hunting, there is a keen competitive element. Just as fish are compared by weight, antlers are compared objectively using a complex scoring system.

The most widely used system is Boone and Crockett. This takes into account the number of points, circumference at various points and width of the spread between the antlers.

Therefore high scoring racks are highly prized and the largest allows the hunter to hold a "record", and there is a strong motivation to use strategies many would consider cheating.

Bred for Antlers

Some deer farms specifically breed for large antlers so they can sell them to trophy hunters more worried about the size of the rack than the skill it took to hunt the animal.

This endeavor of breeding stags with disproportionately large antlers began in the 1930s, largely out of curiosity. But over the last few decades, it has become a serious industry with the most extreme animals selling for very high prices.

But many hunters who want fair hunts of fit animals are outraged by the deliberate breeding of freaks.

Example of a Farm-Bred Antler Freak


Like many commentators, it seems to me that if hunting is to be seen as a contest of skill, not just a game to be won by the wealthy, freak antlers should be excluded from consideration. They would remain interesting curiosities, but not something to be encouraged or bred for. Not only in the interests of fairness, but also because deer with excessive antlers experience poor health and welfare as a result, and because these distorted animals are known to escape and breed back into wild populations.

However, it must be recognized that this would create difficulty in separating particularly fine specimens from mild freaks as there exists a considerable grey area. But once purpose-bred animals and those with recognizable injuries and disorders were excluded, the number of disputed cases would probably be quite small.

It could easily be argued that focusing on antlers is simply a destructive influence on hunting as it leads to hunts for farmed animals, non-use of hunted and animals, and removal of highly fit animals from the herd rather than culling less fit animals to the benefit of the herd.


  • Goss, R. J. "Tumor-like growth of antlers in castrated fallow deer: an electron microscopic study." Scanning microscopy 4, no. 3 (1990): 715-20.
  • Munk, B. A., E. Garrison, B. Clemons, and M. Kevin Keel. "Antleroma in a Free-ranging White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)." Veterinary Pathology Online (2014): 0300985814528216.


Eiddwen from Wales on November 08, 2013:

Very interesting indeed and voted up for sure. Enjoy your day.