The North American male deer (buck or bull) will shed his antlers every winter in order to allow a new pair to grow in. Going in search of these antlers is a great form of exercise that offers the potential for reward in the form of a nice find. In various parts of the continent the antlers of moose, caribou and elk can also be found.
Why Go Shed Hunting?
Like a drunken sailor the shed hunter will walk in a zig-zag pattern, and may return home with a few cuts and scrapes on their face. What possesses the shed hunter to spend their time traversing fields and wooded areas with their eyes locked on the ground?
While most hikes offer scenery as their reward, the shed hunter hikes with purpose, hoping to return with a nice antler or two.
Some enjoy the solitude of being alone in nature, while others prefer some company on their shed hunt. That companionship can come in the form of 2-legged or 4-legged friends. While there has been a lot of hype about shed dogs, the reality is that they’re not all effective assistants. Nonetheless, good company is good company.
Shed Hunting Season?
As deer will typically shed their antlers in February or April, the best time to embark upon a hunt is as soon as the weather allows for it. Finding antlers in the snow is near impossible, so it’s best to wait until much or all of the white stuff has melted. Wait too long, however, and you risk losing prized antlers to rival shed hunters or hungry rodents who gnaw on the antlers for vitamins and calcium. The ideal spring conditions mean a brown landscape with a lack of foliage and underbrush, maximizing your ability to spot sheds.
Where to Look
The best places to look for sheds are areas where deer shelter, areas where they eat and the corridors in between. If that sounds too broad, consider narrowing your searches to fence lines, small creeks and any other areas where deer may be inclined to jump, as this tends to knock antlers loose.
The travel habits of deer in a particular area are prone to change from year to year. Cold winters may knock back deer populations, causing decreased activity for a year or two. Fallen trees can provide more foliage, reducing the distance deer will travel to feed.
In recent years a swampy area of the valley where I conduct my shed hunt has replaced the creek as the area where I find the most success.
Understanding the shifting landscape, as well as the deer’s relation to it, is part of the reward.
Paying the Price
Last April, while shed hunting near a river, a rusty-colored antler was spotted in a slow moving creek. After some deliberation, the decision was made to strip down to boxer shorts and attempt a retrieval. The river was anything but warm, but the reward was an antler from a 12-point buck, which is proudly displayed in the home today, and was well worth the effort. Sometimes a price must be paid to obtain riches.
The Joy of the Search
From the popularity of geo-caching to the never ending search for a striped-shirted man named Waldo, it’s evident that scouting is in our nature. Finding shed antlers is no easy task. It’s essentially the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. Those who train their eyes to look for the glimmer or curvature of deer antlers will find success on their shed hunt. Those who don’t will still enjoy a great afternoon spent in nature during a time of year where time spent outdoors is its own reward.