Who has not one day come face to face with a collection of deer antlers hanging on the wall of a castle during a heritage visit? If you don’t necessarily dream of building up a collection worthy of a stately home, you simply want to collect deer antlers. Is this a legal activity? And if so, where and when can you find it?
The deer antler cycle
Antlers are bony organs, different from horns. Antlers are vascularized, that is, they are made up of many small blood vessels. Antlers can reach 30 kg. They grow continuously throughout a full year, at the end of which they drop. Their role is not yet known with precision: tool used to fight or defend oneself, instrument of interindividual recognition or used to take food? One thing is certain in any case, the researchers did not find a link between the size of the antlers and the reproductive capacity of the deer.
This is because antlers are only carried by male deer and their development follows the cycle of testosterone production. Hormonal dysfunction will have consequences on timber production. Their growth begins in the spring, from an attachment point on the skull called the pedicle. Soft and fragile, they are then protected by a tissue called “velvet”Because of its appearance close to the velvet fabric, which remains on the antlers until the antlers harden.
In summer, the woods grow up to 2.5 cm per day. Once the bone is well formed and hard, around July-August, the velvet dries up and falls off. The deer then rubs its antlers against hard surfaces found in its environment to accelerate the fall. This is the breakthrough period.
The rutting period succeeds him. It is the period of love. From around the middle of September (if the summer has been hot, it will be a little earlier) to the beginning of October, the deer’s slab can be heard. The woods remain bare. The male deer has a dark spot on the abdomen and the coat on the neck is very long.
It is a very tiring season for the deer as they hardly eat anything, busy as they are fighting rivals, mating, watching the females of their herd, etc. They can thus lose up to 20 kg. The young males, more vigorous and more enduring, thus have a better chance of mating at the end of the rut, when the older individuals are at the end of their strength, monitoring their herd with less efficiency.
After the rutting season, you have to eat and sleep to face winter. The antlers are detached from the skull, without causing pain since the bone is no longer vascularized. This is called molting. It happens between February and mid-April, young people losing them last.
Year after year, the antlers are longer, more massive and heavier, but not more branched. Without its antlers, the adult deer identifies with its size, larger, its silhouette, more stocky, and its neck, more developed than in the female.
Can we collect deer antlers, where and when?
Considering the deer antler cycle, you know when you can expect to find molts: in late winter and early spring.
But in which areas can you find them?
The deer is above all a kind of open environment. Scotland’s large populations live year round in areas devoid of forest. In the mountains, the deer are present in mountain pastures up to 3000 meters of altitude, in particular during the rutting period. The total absence of water in a Mediterranean climate limits the development of populations around the Mediterranean. In France, it is in low-altitude and plain forest massifs that you will have the best chance of finding moults because it is in these areas that live the densest populations of deer.
It remains to be seen if you have permission to pick up a molt that you find. To answer the question, we must refer to land law and article 546 of the Civil Code which indicates that “the ownership of a thing, whether movable or immovable, gives right to everything it produces, and on what is incidentally united to it, either naturally or artificially ”.
A moult therefore belongs to the owner of the places where you find it. The owner or holder of the right of ownership of land may prohibit the collection of moults. So you need to educate yourself before doing anything that could be blamed on you. In forests and other areas in the public domain, you must contact the town hall, the ONF or the public establishment that manages the places as in the case of the estates of the Château de Chambord, for example.
The Sainte-Croix animal park located near the city of Rhodes annually harvests the antlers of their deer, fallow deer and reindeer to put them on sale and collect money for the Sainte-Croix Biodiversity endowment fund. Prices range between 10 and 300 euros depending on the characteristics of the moult.
The largest French collection of deer antlers
The most impressive French collection of deer antlers is undoubtedly that of the castle of Celle-les-Bordes, located in the forest of Rambouillet. The vast majority of it comes from hunting and not just collecting moults. Indeed, the castle, initially built by a close relative of Henri IV, was acquired in 1870 by the Duke of Uzès who made it the center of his hunting team and installed his pack there which numbered up to 60 dogs. The collection of 2,400 deer antlers is spread over the walls and ceilings of the reception rooms on the ground floor and overflows into the stairs and onto the exterior facades. The date, place and circumstances of the capture of the animal are written on each wood.