Photos: Big Bucks in Velvet

It's that soft fuzzy stuff wrapped around a deer's antler. It grows lightning fast and produces massive racks. It's what we hunters know as velvet. In many states around the country the early bow season is underway giving hunters the rare opportunity to take a buck in velvet. To pay homage to this unique trophy opportunity, we've put together the best bucks-in-velvet photos from OutdoorLife.com and from our friends on Facebook. See the photos and read on to find out a little more about velvet. - See the full story of the bruiser pictured here, a 197-inch velvet buck from Kentucky.
Every year the antler growing process begins and whitetail and mule deer bucks unveil their new set of polished antlers just in time for the fall hunting season. Antlers, unlike horns that antelope and sheep keep for their lifetime, are grown each year by animals like deer, moose and elk.
Following the rut each year a buck's focus shifts from breeding to feeding as testosterone levels drop. This drop in testosterone causes a buck to shed its antlers. Just weeks after a buck's antlers have dropped, a new set of antlers begin forming and will continue to grow throughout the spring and summer. The antlers are covered in velvet - a soft, brown covering that provides blood and nourishment to the antlers to promote growth. So much growth that older class bucks put on as much as 200 inches of antler in a six-month period. That averages out to more than an inch per day.
As the fuzzy brown main beams develop, points start sprouting up, and sometimes down or sideways creating a unique set of antlers with brow tines, drop tines, sticker points and split tines. Some bucks produce antlers with near perfect symmetry while others produce non-typical racks due to genetics or from previous injuries.
Protein from high-quality forage and minerals help grow the antlers until late summer when the antlers begin to harden as calcium solidifies the bone beneath. Once September arrives the velvet begins to dry out as testosterone levels increase and blood flow decreases to the antlers. It's at this time that bucks prepare to shed their velvet, revealing a newly polished set of antlers for the season. It's also around this time that bachelor groups of bucks start breaking up and becoming less tolerable of one another.
As hunters we are obsessed with velvet - we spend hours glassing summer bucks in velvet, pour over thousands of trail cam pictures of velvet bucks and where the season opens early enough, hunters long for a chance at a velvet buck. It simply fascinates us.
Although I've seen a small number of bucks in velvet on my early season bowhunts in Connecticut, I've never had the opportunity to take a mature whitetail in full velvet, but there's plenty of hunters out there who do just that each season. Mule deer seasons typically open earlier than whitetail seasons and great mule deer are taken in velvet in states like Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona. Where seasons open early enough in places like North Dakota and Connecticut whitetail hunters can pursue big velvet bucks just before they shed their velvet. Whether you get the chance to hunt velvet mule deer or whitetails or not, the rest of these photos are sure to give you buck fever.

A big buck in velvet is one of the most coveted trophies in big-game hunting. We've got 30 photos of some velvet dandies and the inside scoop on just exactly what the fuzzy stuff is.