By Sharon Wootton Herald Columnist
Picture a stack of racks from 33 trophy elk, 22 trophy deer and five trophy moose; 450 pounds of various sizes of elk antlers; about 250 pounds of single small elk antlers; about 120 pounds of single small and medium deer antlers; and about 40 pounds of single moose antlers.
Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel seized the racks and antlers from poachers during the past decade.
Now they’re yours for the online bidding, which ends Tuesday afternoon. To bid, go to wdfw.wa.gov. Money raised will be used to fight poaching.
Antlers and racks are a very macho thing (only female caribou are the antler-bearing exception) involving testosterone, territory, dominance and display. They’re made of bone (horns are made of keratin, are hollow and are not shed), quickly grown in the spring and covered with a “furry” velvet that supplies nutrients to a growing antler.
The velvet is so effective that antlers from species can grow nearly an inch a day, which is practical because in the fall rutting season and pumped up testosterone levels, the antlers become weapons to dominate other males and attract females.
Just before the antlers calcify into bone, they contain a high percentage of water. When the antlers are grown, the velvet dries and falls off or is rubbed off. The antlers will fall off in winter when testosterone levels have fallen.
Researchers and marketers don’t mean just the velvet covering when referring to velvet antlers.
Velvet antler refers to the entire antler before it calcifies. It’s the antler, not just the velvet, that is harvested (there are deer or elk farms just for antler harvest). The velvet antlers are harvested, pulverized, used in some cultures as a powder in tea or capsules.
But what can you do with a rack or antlers other than mount them over the fireplace? More than you might imagine.
Antlers are bought and sold online. Go to eBay, www.shedordead.com (10 cents to $12 a pound) or countless other sites. This buy-sell arena is strictly buyer beware. Those who succeed the best are sellers or expert buyers who can avoid the pitfalls. Remember: All antlers are not created equal.
Researchers are interested in antlers. There’s even an International Symposium on Antler Science and Product Technology. The 2011 symposium was held in China, where deer antlers were first used for medicinal purposes.
Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in London are working on the concept that antler regeneration may use stem cells, which may be a key to bone growth in human limbs.
Then there’s the marketing angle. The Internet is full of “research” done with very small numbers of people, often without double-blind tests, and without considering the processing methods or the quality of velvet antler.
And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence without clinical backup.
There are ads that so-and-so athlete uses velvet antler to increase strength and vitality. “Uses” is a popular word in the marketing of velvet antler. “Uses” means just that, and is not an indication that it works.
For instance, the product Pure Deer Velvet Powder, found online, has 100 capsules (500mg each) per bottle. For a mere $39.99, ads claim you can heal faster, enjoy higher energy levels, build a powerful immune system, look and feel younger, and increase muscle strength and endurance.
Other ads speak of its claimed anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer help with kidney and liver problems as well as ulcers and gout, and body-building attributes.
Since velvet antler is not controlled by the FDA, any claim can be made with a straight face and a hand out for your credit card.
While researches are seeing some signs of positive effects under some conditions, they have yet to do the large-scale studies that would give credence to the marketing claims.
At least the Chinese have a couple of thousand years of practice.
If you want to use velvet antler for something, stick with an antler dog chew until the science can back up the marketing.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.