Great Smoky Mountains National Park Highlights Velvet Deer Season, Explains to Visitors Why It Happens

by Jon D. B.

“Oh deer!” It’s velvet deer and rut season in the Smoky Mountains, and the national park is highlighting this sometimes-gruesome time of year for our native white-tailed deer.

Ah, home. Growing up on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park shaped this Outsider. And it remains, to this day, the most visited national park in America.

It’s safe to say, then, that many a’ visitor has seen a white-tail sporting bloody antlers. They start out all velvety and gorgeous, but once the rut-rubbing begins, they can look quite the mangled, gruesome mess. So what, exactly, is going on here? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park explains with an “Oh deer!”

“This time of year, you may see male white-tailed deer in the park sporting bloodied antlers, often with a stringy material dangling from them,” begins the NP on their official Facebook. “While it can seem jarring and painful, this is a healthy and painless process for shedding their velvet, a protective layer of skin tissue packed with blood vessels and nerves.”

Photo by Fiona Bleu

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As the park explains, this velvety coat “nourishes a deer’s antlers while they grow over the course of several months.”

That is, it does before the rut. As rut rolls around, though, “a buck will scrape the velvet away on trees and bushes, allowing his antlers to harden.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Puts Spotlight on Deer Consuming His Own Velvet

Perhaps the most startling fact, however, is that bucks will actually eat their fleshy, velvet sheddings. Take a closer look at the photo above and you’ll see a prime example.

“The velvet is nutritionally dense and will sometimes be ingested by the deer,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues.

Then, once rutting season is complete, a buck will then shed his antlers. For any Outsider who’s ever been shed hunting, this is why the wilderness fills with said “sheds” for us to find.

And as is paramount in the cycle of life, the process then starts all over again for the next year.

As for rut, the term refers to the mating time and season for hooved animals like deer, elk, moose, and bison. It’s a typically gory and dangerous time of year for cervids (the deer family), as their antlers serve many purposes. Brutal fights over mating rights are a hallmark of rut, and some can end up pretty nasty.

But in the end, it’s all about continuing that cycle of life. Pairing up to produce offspring is what we mammals are all about in nature. And if any species contains pro-level mating, it’s the white-tailed deer.

For more on rut season and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Outsider has you covered.