Our Rec Center chandelier is made from elk and mule deer antlers from the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana and includes over 20 elk antlers and about that many mule deer antlers – good luck trying to count them all!
Elk and mule deer antlers are dropped, or ‘shed’ in the spring and collected by hikers and shed antler pickers, who gather and sell them. Elk and mule deer grow new, larger antlers each year until they reach their prime age of about 6-8 years old, at which point their antlers are no longer shed and reach their maximum size.
Antlers vs Horns
All male members of the deer family in North America shed their antlers annually, including Moose, Whitetail Deer, Blacktail Deer, Sitka Deer, Couse Deer, Reindeer, and Caribou. Reindeer and Caribou are the only deer species in which the female also grow antlers!
The horned animals in North America include the 4 sub-species of wild sheep, antelope, Bison, and Mountain Goat. Those species are not members of the deer family and carry their horns their entire life. The two terms, antler and horn, get mixed up a lot, but they are completely different. Antlers are actually covered in a blood bearing tissue called “velvet” when in the growth stage. In late summer, blood flow gets restricted due to an annual spike in testosterone, and antlers slowly morph into a hard bone by fall, then they are shed in spring. The shedding of antlers is caused by the new antler bud pushing the old one off right at the base of the skull.
Horn is a two-part structure made up of an interior portion of bone that is covered by an exterior sheath of specialized hair follicles that grow together and harden over time. Horn constantly adds to itself at the base of the skull, pushing the hardened portion forward and creating the curved shapes we see.
Who made our chandelier?
Our chandelier was made by Jim Swanson (second from right), shown here on one of his spring shed hunting outings. This would be considered a fairly good haul. Note the fresh brown antlers that were recently shed, vs. the white colored antlers that were not found the first season and weathered on the ground for a year, losing their brown color due to the sun’s UV rays, rain & snow. Antler kept inside will keep its color forever. Jim’s little dog, Buddy, can hike 20 miles a day!