"What are you doing walking every day and why do you have piles of antlers laying everywhere?" This is the question many ask that know me or stumble into our house. What is it that has me spending countless hours walking and searching for a simple piece of bone?
Simply stated, many may never understand why we walk hundreds of miles each season to find a lonely piece of bone laying in the woods. As a matter of fact, some people are not aware that antlered animals such as deer drop/shed their antlers each year. What is it that has people from across the country looking for those shed antlers or what some call white gold? For some, the reason may be exercise and for others it is post season scouting that may help for the following hunting season. Some may search for antlers for possible financial gain which is quite common. Others may have dogs that are able to scent/search for shed antlers and it is time spent afield/outdoors with man’s best friend. Shed hunting dogs have become very common in the last 20 years. We will share some tips in the future that we have found helpful on training our dogs to help you enjoy the shed woods with your companion.
For myself, the thrill is watching our dogs Oakley and Sitka work their noses in search mode for antlers. Not only are the dogs staying fit, I also get some much needed exercise as an average day is about 10 miles of walking woodlots and fields. Watching them work along with the possibility of stumbling upon a recently cast antler is such a great outdoor sight. The excitement of raising your binoculars to confirm it might be an antler laying across the wood lot as you inch toward the bone brings a huge smile once the shed antler is confirmed. The fact that the whitetail deer is an animal that consumes my thoughts most weeks of the year also drives my desire to walk endless miles.
Most family and friends may never understand why there are piles of antlers around our house and cabin that have accumulated over the last 25 plus years. The reality is that every antler has a story! Literally, my son and I can pull each antler out of a pile and re-live where it was found, which deer and what time of shed season. For all found sheds, we are feverish enough to record the date found. Believe it or not, we have found some fresh sheds on same exact date from the same deer year after year. It is common for many deer to shed their antlers at a similar time each year.
If you should ever choose to go for a late winter/early spring walk in search of shed antlers, here are some helpful tips that may help you locate a few.
- Tip number one is simple, set a realistic goal and just enjoy the walk/exercise! We average approx. 7-8 miles walked per antler/shed found. This can vary depending on location. Many that see the hundreds of antlers we have accumulated and believe they are simply laying everywhere…sadly, they are not!
- Logic would say to shed hunt where there are known deer populations overwintering. Many I know have gotten discouraged due to fact that they’re searching barren, deer free areas for antlers. Confirm there are deer in area by noting fresh sign.
- Deer bedding areas and primarily South facing bedding areas are a great place to start your search due to deer spending time in areas that allow more daytime sun during those cold bitter days.
- Travel areas/trails between known bedding areas and food sources can lead to success. Deer prefer to conserve energy this time of year so most travel is from their bed to food and back to bedding area.
- Cut agriculture fields are also great spots for success as those areas tend to be evening destinations where deer spend much time refueling their bodies to get through the winter.
- Areas with solid thermal cover such as cedar thickets, fallen trees and blowdown areas can be great if winter conditions are harsh as deer will herd up in these thicker/warmer areas.
- Creek crossings and fence crossings can produce as well due to the jumping/jarring action if antler bases/pedicles are weakened.
- Try not to go into and disturb your core areas too early in the shed season as you may just push those deer to neighboring properties. On the flip side, searching too late in the season can lead to many finds where squirrels and mice have chewed most of the antler. Finding half chewed antlers can be very frustrating! Deer typically shed antlers beginning late December and some carry them into April. This can vary by region.
- One of the more important aspects to locating sheds is to walk slow and take a moment to stop on occasion to allow time to scan and glass surrounding areas with binoculars. Having the sun at your back and looking for shapes out of pattern or the shine of an antler is helpful. I have literally tripped on antlers in the past due to rushing myself to cover more ground rather than thoroughly scouting current area.
So what is the logic that has many outdoorsmen and women walking the countryside looking for bone? I would equate the search to other items people collect. Baseball cards was my treasure when I was younger or perhaps those that collect stamps or coins can relate. Some people scour the beaches for sand dollars or shark teeth. Others search fields and creek bottoms for artifacts left behind by our ancestors and some search the Great Lakes shorelines for Petoskey stones…but why? These quirky searches for some are no different than shed hunting to many such as myself. The similarities are the desire to search and find desired treasure in a setting you enjoy spending time. Simply put, there is no logic other than a deep passion for being outdoors and stumbling upon the stray antler you may be in search of so grab a family member, friend or dog and get outdoors and get some exercise while trying something different! Go find some white gold and enjoy the walk and create your own shed memories!