You Can’t Eat Deer Antlers

Deer and elk antlers are about the only part of an animal that can’t be eaten, but it just doesn’t seem right to throw them away.

  • deer antler
    Most deer and elk antlers salvaged by hunters are stashed in a farm outbuilding.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • hunting mule deer illustration
    This illustration looks almost exactly like my brother and me hunting mule deer in the 1960s and ’70s using his World War II-era jeep.
    Farm Collector archives
  • hunter postcard
    This “Greetings From Idaho” postcard (published in 1950) shows the timeless humor that surrounds the relationship between the hunter and the hunted.
    Farm Collector archives

  • deer antler
  • hunting mule deer illustration
  • hunter postcard

In the very earliest days in colonial America, big game hunting was a way of life for settlers. In fact, for most of our history, in addition to farm-raised animals, wild game was a significant source of meat for those living in rural America.

As late as the early 20th century, laying in the meat of a deer or elk was considered essential for winter survival for those in rural or remote areas. In our part of western America, it was even the goal of those in isolated areas to harvest a bear once a year. Not only was bear meat considered a treat, the fat from the carcass was needed for cooking.

Of course, in modern times hunting has become something quite different from providing subsistence. Still, almost everyone I know who hunts big game does it as much for the meat as for the sport. There is no greater contempt among them than what they feel for the individual who kills an animal and abandons or wastes the meat. It is an unwritten code that you eat what you shoot.

Collecting antlers

In our area, it is not unusual to visit the farm home of a longtime hunter and see a bunch (as few as three to as many as a couple of dozen) mule deer antlers. Sometimes you'll see a few elk antlers. They may be placed somewhere they can be seen; other times they are stored in an outbuilding.

When experienced collectors collect and display antlers, it isn't a show of value. It's just that antlers are about the only part of the animal that can't be eaten, and it just doesn't seem right to throw them away. Don't confuse the antlers in this discussion with those of trophy hunters who mount their successes for all to see. At a farm or ranch, you are just as apt to see mule deer spike buck antlers as a four- or five-point rack.

Anyone who has spent a lifetime hunting elk or deer, as this author has, can spend hours telling hunting stories. No two hunters' stories are the same. Most have some unusual or humorous feature that was burned into the participants' memories. We like to joke that "the first liar doesn't have a chance," but that doesn't mean the events related aren't true. It is just that most discussions start with some casual observation about hunting and, as time goes by, the really unusual experiences are brought up.


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