Elk breeders throughout North America enjoy the rush of competing in the North American Elk Breeders Association's (NAEBA) sanctioned antler competitions which are held annually in July and August. Eigth preliminary regional competitions make up the International Competition.
Both velvet antlers and hard antlers compete for honors. NAEBA provides a judges school in the spring to train the antler judges so that procedures are as uniform as possible. Results of the contests help to determine the market value of a bull and his offspring. Winning an award can add thousands-and even tens of thousands-to the expected income from a bull.
Judges use the Certified Weight Index (CWI)©, a system developed by NAEBA, to evaluate the velvet antler in classes of 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 4-year-old, 5-year-old, 6-year-old, and mature bulls. This point system assesses criteria which reflect both market and aesthetic considerations: weight, beam circumference, tines, mirror image, balance, calcification and presentation. Two points per pound are given for the weight of the antlers. The record weight for a set of velvet antlers is over 50 pounds! The beam circumference score is obtained by adding the measurements for the right and left antlers together and applying an algebraic formula to the result-adjusted for each class. Tines and mirror image are five points each, and balance is ten points. Lack of calcification can earn the antlers up to 25 points, and presentation scores a maximum of five points.
The hard antler is judged in the same age classes, further separated into typical and non-typical entries. NAEBA has chosen a modified version of the Safari Club International (SCI) measuring system because it is a comprehensive system accepted around the world and because SCI recognizes hunt ranch trophies. Hunting ranch recreational opportunities are increasingly popular, and trophy elk can bring top dollar in that market, often after years of production for the velvet antler market.
"Velvet" is the "green" antler harvested from the live animal in late spring. After it is dried, ground into powder and encapsulated, it is sold as a dietary supplement which promotes better health. Recent studies have shown that antler extracts contain both growth-promoting and anti-stress factors. Antler contains active components which influence body metabolism, accelerate healing and recovery from injury, and reduce inflammation and the effects of arthritis. Velvet antler has met the rigorous standards of structure/function claims, as required by the FDA, for arthritis symptoms, and branded products can state, "Provides nutritional support for joint structure and function." Although Korea and other Eastern countries-where antler has been respected as a supplement for over 2,000 years-have traditionally been the primary market, the North American market is rapidly expanding as health conscious consumers discover the benefits of elk antler.