Shedding Light on Shed Antler Hunting

February 15, 2016 greg wagner

It’s an unusual pastime, but one that is growing in popularity. It involves hiking the countryside this time of year to look for and collect discarded branched, bony extensions of  hooved animals. It is something that many different ages can enjoy and naturalists say it is the perfect cure for cabin fever. “It” is colloquially referred to as shed hunting or shed antler hunting. 

White-tailed and mule deer have begun to shed their antlers for re-growth purposes.

Shed White-tailed deer antler. Photo by Rob Schuette.
Shed White-tailed deer antler. Photo by Rob Schuette.

Molted antlers symbolize the cycle of natural life. They represent hard, weathered material yielding a variety of minerals passed from soil to plants and condensed into blood-nourished bone. The polished antlers of bucks that were wielded during the autumn rites of breeding have re-emerged and now lie in various places, sometimes in the oddest of places, in the late winter or spring sunlight.

Fresh White-tailed Deer Antler Shed at Farmstead. Photo by Rob Schutte.
Fresh white-tailed deer antler shed at Nebraska farmstead. Photo by Rob Schutte.

Nebraska law allows a person to pick up, possess, buy, sell, or barter antlers or horns that have been dropped or shed by deer, elk and pronghorn (antelope).

Shed mule deer antler. Photo by Greg Wagner.

There are several reasons why those of us who enjoy nature and the lifestyle of conventional hunting seek and gather shed antlers.

Finding a shed antler is like discovering a message in a bottle or a gold nugget!

Every shed antler is different; like snowflakes, they are large and small and each has unique characteristics making them fun to examine and collect.

Shed antlers give an snapshot of what particular bucks or what caliber of bucks survived the hunting seasons and are living in your hunting area.

Shed antlers discovered in the wild can be used to make many crafts, such as knife handles, coat racks, picture frames or lamps.

Antler Lamp. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Shed antlers shared with others who may not have access to nature provides a connection to it.

Shed deer antlers can be officially scored by the North American Shed Hunters Club.

Shed antlers are excellent dog chews.

But, where does a person go and look for these “shed” or “dropped” deer antlers?

Answer: Any place where deer hang out regularly and their antlers can fall off, be jolted off or intentionally knocked off.

Here are some specific suggestions about where to find shed deer antlers:

– Check the Menu. In winter, find areas where deer concentrate to feed. Often, one field, most likely a corn field with dense woodland cover nearby, will draw all the deer while other fields are left untouched.

Shed Deer Antler Hunting Location. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Shed deer antler hunting location. Photo by Greg Wagner.
– Look in their beds. Ovals in grass or snow denote deer beds and are may offer rewards for shed hunters because of the increased likelihood of finding matched sets of antlers as well as small shed antlers. Be sure to look closely!
Inspection of Deer Bed. Photo by Stephen Wagner.
Inspection of deer bed for shed antlers. Photo by Stephen Wagner.
 – Don’t go too far past the bedroom. Do not overlook primary deer trails leading into or out from bedding areas for shed deer antlers. Deer trails along south-facing slopes with mature hardwood trees, conifers or plum thickets nearby that have lower-hanging branches or limbs, are always productive.
Shed deer antler hunting location. Photo by Greg Wagner.
– Where they jump. Any spot where a buck has to jump such things as fences, creeks and ditches are all good places to search for shed antlers.
Shed deer antler hunting location. Photo by Greg Wagner.

There is some additional information to know about shed deer antler hunting.

Remember to get permission from landowners before hunting sheds. Try not to repeatedly disturb wildlife by frequently hunting the same areas. Go with a partner (two sets of eyes are better than one), walk slowly (so as not to miss any antlers) and take a plastic bucket along to carry the antlers (for convenience and safety purposes).

If you’re serious about finding shed deer antlers, you need to gear into or around what I call the “special days” to hunt for them at appropriately spaced intervals. These are President’s Day (Mid-Late February), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), April Fool’s Day (April 1st) and Tax Deadline Day (April 15th).

Regarding weather for shed antler hunting, believe it or not, rainy days are optimal days for seeking sheds because the antlers can shine and catch your eye.  Also, don’t let snow cover stop you from shed hunting either as the antlers, or parts thereof, can really stand out and be much easier to spot!

Shed white-tailed deer antler. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Keep in mind that different perspectives on the hunt may bring a hidden shed antler into view, too. For example, stand on top of a downed tree and get a higher vantage point to survey the terrain for antlers. Conversely,  crouch down in a baseball catcher’s stance to do some ground scanning for antlers, too.

Do I suggest using digital game cameras in shed antler hunting? Absolutely! Install those digital game cameras close to areas where the deer are feeding. Trails that enter or exit field are ideal spots to put the cameras. Once you see one-antlered bucks on the cameras, begin the shed hunting.

One-antlered white-tailed deer. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Probably the biggest mistake made in shed antler hunting is to haphazardly walk around with no plan to cover a given tract of land.  Use maps or map apps on your Smart Phone, coordinate efforts to make certain all ground is searched with a grid system and use binoculars in the process.

Shed antler hunting can even be more fun with if you know someone who has a trained, seasoned shed antler hunting dog!

Photo of Oreo courtesy of Ray Schuette of Plattsmouth, NE.
Photo of Oreo courtesy of Ray Schuette of Plattsmouth, NE.

Shed antlers are renewable, recyclable resources. They are fascinating. Discarded antlers represent a source of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals and are often gnawed upon by small mammals, including squirrels, porcupines, rabbits and mice. Did you know that antlers are the fastest-growing bone that isn’t cancerous or prenatal. Antlers on deer can grow at a rate up to seven times that of skeletal growth?

Fresh white-tailed deer antler shed (pedicle). Photo by Rob Schutte

Shed deer antlers are interesting indeed and shed hunting is an outdoor activity the whole family can enjoy. The search for sheds is a fantastic way to get more kids interested in the great outdoors and truly experience what I call “hands-on nature.”

Maddie Pierce with Shed Antler. Photo by Greg Wagner.
Young Maddie Pierce of Omaha, NE displays a shed white-tailed deer antler. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Make some memories on a shed antler hunt this season or next!

The post Shedding Light on Shed Antler Hunting appeared first on NEBRASKALand Magazine.

Previous Article
Trout Unlimited, Nebraska
Trout Unlimited, Nebraska

A week ago I told you about a Nebraska fishing organization, the Nebraska Walleye Association, and encourag...

Next Article
Feed Birds in your Backyard this Spring
Feed Birds in your Backyard this Spring

The spring migration will soon be here bringing weary travelers; bird lovers may want to consider providing...