Deer antlers in velvet a Lowcountry prize

Taxidermist Jimmy Hortman says antlers must be handled with care to preserve velvet.

One of the big bonuses for having a deer season that starts in mid-August is that South Carolina Lowcountry hunters have an opportunity to harvest a trophy buck whose antlers are coated in "velvet."

Each year deer shed their antlers and then grow new ones. As the new antlers grow they contain nerves and blood vessels, and the hairy skin is referred to as "velvet" for its resemblance to the rich fabric. Soon, though, the deer will rub the velvet off.

"They're already rubbing off now. The deer are already starting to shed the velvet," said taxidermist Jimmy Hortman, who grew up on Medway Plantation in Berkeley County and now works out of Pawleys Island.

Hortman (Hortman's Custom Wildlife Taxidermy, 843 412-0416), who estimates 70 percent of his customers are from the Charleston area, said he gets a handful of requests each year for a taxidermy mount of a deer in velvet. He's already received a few calls this season about antlers in velvet.

The key to being successful with deer in velvet is to take care of it and get the rack to the taxidermist as quickly as possible.

"The hunter needs to get the antlers cold as soon as possible. It's a flesh and once that flesh goes bad it's hard to keep them nice," Hortman said. "It's a time-sensitive thing. I can't be twiddling my thumbs."

Hortman said hunters need to be extremely careful in the field. Don't spend time taking a lot of photos, and be careful putting the deer in the back of a truck or on a four-wheeler. Handle the antlers as little as possible. The natural tendency is to grab the deer by the antlers to drag it from the woods, but that is the wrong way to handle the tender velvet.

"(Velvet) will rub off, it will crack and it will split. Once that skin is broken, you can't get it right again," Hortman said.

"If you're going to take a deer in velvet, you'd better get it now. Usually by the end of August, the first week of September, they're pretty clean. Once the blood vessels dry up, it's like a scab and starts to itch so they rub it off on branches and trees."