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Confessions of a Shed Hunter

Posted: March 4, 2016

There’s more than one way to get those coveted bones that grow from a whitetails head!
Photo credit: J. Fleegle

Photo credit: J. Fleegle

The number of antler posts I’ve written lately is getting a bit ridiculous. Especially for someone who admittedly gets annoyed by all the antler hype. I really need to start focusing on those beautiful brown-eyed girls.

But not today. Today is again about those marvels of nature. Generally speaking, antlers on a deer do not impress me. I see them as part of the whole package of a buck. They all have them. They all have the ability to grow them every year. They are a nice way to individually identify an animal. My indifference is probably associated with my complete lack of interest in pursuing them while they are attached to the animal. 

However, my attitude does a 180 this time of year. Because an antler on the ground is so much more fun! 

Why?

For me, there are many reasons. For one, the challenge! They are a lot more difficult to spot. They don’t move or run. Every stick in the woods is a look alike. And they don’t herd up! Granted they can’t smell you and the not running part makes them easier to catch, but still.

#2 is being OUTSIDE. Let’s talk about being in the woods this time of year. It is awesome! It still can be cold (and even a storm or 2 in the forecast). But winter is on the downhill slide and the older I get the more I hate winter. There is the promise of spring in the air on those sunny 40+ degree days. And I get giddy with the prospect.

#3 – My dog! That’s right. I have an unhealthy attachment to my dog. And any activity her and I can do together shoots to the top of the “how I spend my free time” list. 

#4 – A tangible take-home. When you find a shed, it is yours…forever (or until you give it to your dog as a chew toy). Looking at the sheds in my pile reminds me of those bright sunny days outside with my dog (and sometimes my husband). 

#5 – Antlers are cool! Yes, I know I’m annoyed by the hype but holding a shed antler in your hand makes you appreciate the animal that made them, the incredibility complex process of their growth, and the journey it took to end up in your hand. Or maybe, this is just because I’m a biologist.

So that’s why I love shed hunting. But how in the world does one find one? They don’t call it hunting for nothing. Like deer hunting, it takes time, knowledge, and experience. 

My husband has been shed hunting for decades. His bone piles are high and deep. I swear he can smell them. As I was going cross-eyed and blind looking, he would walk in the woods and literally step on them. I decided I was better off going with my dog and leaving him at home!

Shed hunting didn’t become a couples activity again until a couple of years ago after I got some of that knowledge and experience. It’s a bit of a friendly competition but at least I can hold my own now. 

So far this year, I have found 10 sheds. The first 2 I found when I wasn’t even looking. Walking the dog, something caught my eye in a hedge row opening. Could it be? It was February 16 which is an early find for me! I grinned with delight. I found the first shed of the year (not my husband!), a title which I had never held. I rushed back to the house to rub it in. 

The spark ignited the flame and I decided to go back out and do a quick check of the adjacent wood line. I never find sheds there but it was a nice evening and I still had some day light left. As I was enjoying the crunch of the leaves and the jingle of the dog’s tags, there it was. Another one! Two in one day with minimal steps and less than an hour of looking. The season was starting off with a BANG! The proximity and shape of the antlers suggested they might even be a matched pair. GET OUT! I had only ever found one other set before.

The other cool thing about shed hunting is that you don't have to hunt for a new area every time you head out. Because not all bucks drop their antlers in the same day, week, or month, you can go back to the same place multiple times. A quick lunch time walk with my trustee companion yielded these 2 great finds. 

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When I came home to rub it in again, my husband told me he just walked that area a few days before and came up empty handed. Too bad :)

Shed hunting is by far my favorite spring time outdoor activity. I’ve been asked what the best way is to find a shed. I’m no expert but here are some suggestions.

Timing – While bucks can lose their antlers anywhere from December to March, the best time to find them is now (March) - if it's a mild winter like this year, you can get a head start in February.  There are more sheds on the ground than attached to deer heads, which is a huge plus.

Sunshine – The right light will make antlers glow. I am serious. I only saw those lunch time sheds because of perfect lighting. I knew exactly what they were before I even took a step toward them. One was 100 yards away laying in an unmowed strip by the woods!

Location – Honestly, this is probably the least important factor. If there are deer in the area, a shed can be anywhere. Deer are lazy and will walk the same path but they filter through an area more often than not. And since there is also no telling exactly where or when an antler will fall off, any place is a good place to look.

So far, it’s been my best year yet. Our outing Saturday (this time I took my husband and the dog) yielded 7 sheds – 4 from this year, 3 from last (BTW – I found 3 of the fresh sheds but who's counting ;). And while I’m having a great year (and the ‘season’ has just started), I’ll probably never find one like this.

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This is the smallest shed my husband has ever found. I think it is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The only way I can beat this one is to find a polished button. Someday…

So take my advice: Go for a walk; take your kids or better yet your dog; walk a deer path or a wood edge or a forest trail; enjoy the outdoors. You may find more than you are looking for.

-Jeannine Fleegle, biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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