Antlers vs. Horns (Part 1): What’s the difference?

“Look at the horns on that Whitetail.”
“I have a great set of Elk horns.”
“I’d love to have a set of antlers like the ones on that Kudu.”

These are common phrases that we have all heard, and have probably been guilty of using from time to time. While common, these statements are all also incorrect.  In fact, there is a difference between antlers and horns, and it can make a big difference when you are having your trophy mounted.

Antlers are made of bone.  Animals like male deer, moose, and elk, as well as female and male reindeer and caribou, grow new antlers each year. As the antlers grow, they are covered in a velvety fur that is rubbed off later in the season, exposing the hard bone growths. Antlers are somewhat fragile when in the velvet growing stage, and can be broken or impaled by trees, branches, etc.  As the velvet becomes ready to fall off, these animals begin to rub their antlers on branches and trunks of trees to fully remove the covering. After the covering is removed, antlers are stained a variety of colors by the dirt and tree bark that each animal rubs on.  Later in the season, when males become territorial, these antlers are very hard and are used to defend turf, or win the rights to breed. Late in the year, antlers are shed, and the process begins again a few months later.

Horns are made up of compressed hair.  Unlike species with antlers, horns begin growing soon after birth, and continue to grow until an animal dies, never falling off throughout the life cycle.  “Pronghorns” are the only exception to this rule.  Pronghorns shed the outer casing of their horns each year, but the underlying bone structure remains intact.  As animals with horns grow, their horns continue to grow with them and harden.  Underneath these horns is bone structure and a living tissue casing called keratin. The horns of some species look very much like bone, and can even be polished, while others have more of a coarse, wood grain appearance.

Stay tuned for part two, coming next week!