Outdoors Column: Shed Antler Project

Whitetail deer spend all summer growing their antlers to impress the does and fight with other bucks in the fall. In late winter, these proud symbols of their virility fall off and they start to grow a new set of antlers for the next season. These shed antlers provide a source of calcium and other minerals to mice, squirrels, voles and other wildlife that chew on them. They also provide a source of entertainment to outdoor enthusiast who try to find them before they get chewed to pieces.

Sunday was a beautiful spring-like day. My wife and I decided to take advantage of the weather and go shed hunting. With a couple of bottles of water and Billie, the poodle, we headed out in the Ranger. Finding shed antlers is more difficult than it would seem. With the number of deer we have, antlers should be laying all over the place. This is not the case. Many times, bucks will lose them during the day when they are bedded down in thick brush or in a fallen treetop. These take hours of difficult walking to find. Others are lost when he jumps a fence. The jarring of his hitting the ground will be just enough to knock the loosened antlers off. These are generally easier to find when they do not land in tall grass or brush. The color of the antlers will range from dark brown to polished white. The various shades of brown blend in with the color of the dead grass and branches. The polished white antlers can frequently be spotted from some distance. Overall, I would rate shed hunting somewhat easier than mushroom hunting, though the success rate is not always any better. I have come up empty handed in both endeavors.

We brought Billie along because he likes to go for a ride and to chase deer from the safety of the seat of the Ranger. I would like to be able to turn him loose to find antlers on his own. He loves to chew on antlers and has a good nose for smelling them out. Though he would probably be successful, I would have to pay the price of having to clean him up. Ten minutes of running through the woods equals about two hours of brushing and cleaning the dog before he can go back inside. It is much like a cotton ball touching a strip of Velcro. Every weed seed and burr in the area is immediately attached to the dog.

Billie was over-joyed when we would point out deer hiding in their bedding areas as we drove around. He got to bark at them as well as protect us. He did a good job as not one deer attacked us. Mostly, they just ignored us, but Billie thought he was doing a fine job.

We found several antlers, including a matched pair. It is not common to find both antlers from a buck in the same area. These were only a few feet apart and in perfect condition. This is a nice enough set, they may get to be a decoration on the coffee table. Other sheds we found had been chewed on, some extensively. Billie will get to keep on as a reward for helping us and the rest go into the collection waiting for something useful to be done with them. I am sure there is some project requiring a whole bunch of shed antlers. When we discover what that project is, we are ready.