Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
This magnificent animal is the largest member of the deer family, standing 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing close to a ton. The large males (bulls) sport antlers that may spread 6 feet across. Females (cows) do not grow antlers. Antlers differ from horns in that they are growths on the skull. The bony antlers begin to grow in spring or early summer. Soft and tender as they grow, a thin skin of short, fine hairs - the "velvet" - covers the growing bone. In early autumn the antler growth reaches maximum size. Blood recedes gradually and circulation ceases; the velvet hair dries, loosens, and is rubbed off. Once the velvet is shed, the antlers serve as ornaments and weapons.
During this time, called the "rut," the bulls clash antlers to determine which bull gets to mate with the females. Once battles have been fought and mating completed, the antlers are no longer necessary and are shed. Come the next spring or early summer, antler growth will again commence. This bull is standing at the edge of the taiga forest, where stunted spruce trees meet shrubs of the tundra. It's a busy and stressful time for this monarch of the North, for he spends most of his day jealously guarding his harem from the advances of other bulls.