Shed Hunter's Month
Over the years, people have told me that they’ve never found a shed antler. When I question them to learn why, the reason is quite obvious—they weren’t looking for them. Think about it. Who’s most apt to see more deer, the person who goes hunting, or the person who doesn’t hunt, even though they live in deer country? Years ago, my Dad and I used to have conflicting estimates of the deer population on our farm. Dad would argue that there “aren’t many deer around,” while I was frequently witnessing an abundant population since I was spending considerable time perched in a tree stand. Therefore, he had a totally different view of our deer herd, only because he wasn’t out and about looking for them.
Shed antler hunting is exactly like that. You won’t find a daypack full of antlers by cruising through the woodlots looking toward the canopy sizing up the timber’s worth. And you won’t find many while you’re hiking across an open field if the beauty of the landscape beyond has seized your attention. Sheds lay on the ground, be it field or forest. As you walk, they may be in front, to the left, or to the right, so that’s where you must train your eyes to focus—not toward the sky nor the horizon. On rare occasions though, sheds will be found by those who are wandering for reasons other than antlers, but if you suddenly have a yearning to set your own shed collection record, here’s some points that may help narrow the spread between each beam you find.
Antlers—grown and cast annually—start off in early spring shrouded in a soft skin (velvet) that nourishes the developing bone. By the time the autumnal equinox arrives, antlers have formed into not only an object of attraction, but tools of defense for domination. When the breeding cycle and its hormonal demand has run its course, the casting or shedding of the antlers commences. The bulk of the shedding process takes place during January and February, but pinpointing the occurrence is impossible because it’s highly influenced by such factors as weather, nutrition, and prolonged rut.
Knowing when to start seeking sheds is the first key to finding them. Since I only search private land, I can set my own start date without running the risk of losing antlers to other individuals. I practice the philosophy that later is far better than sooner. So, I don’t start looking for them until I know most of them have hit the ground. That time is March. To me, March is the shed hunter’s month, clearly because the vast majority of antlers in northern Pennsylvania where I live will be cast by then. But there’s another reason. Unlike some states that prohibit the gathering of sheds until a certain date, Pennsylvania has no policy governing such excursions. Nevertheless, I prefer to stay clear of prime bedding and feeding sites until March, to minimize the risk of additional herd stress and possible displacement of bucks. Your net worth of antlers will total far less at the end of the season if you push animals out of the area.
Troy Tire & Equipment is a thirty-year-old business on Fallbrook Road in Troy, specializing in tire sales and repair for automotive and farm equipment. On February 27 last year, I talked to Kevin Schucker, who works there. He and another coworker had already repaired six tractor and implement tires that month. Were they flattened from rocks, wear and tear, or other means? Nope...punctured by antlers! “It’s a common occurrence this time of year,” says Kevin. That remark should grab your attention. Here’s why.
Deflated farm equipment tires caused by antlers means that bucks spent a considerable amount of time in those fields—lured in by either leftover grains or other crops. Antlers dropped off, and tires found them. Downtime frustrates a farmer. Ask permission and you may be granted hundreds of acres to search for sheds. Don’t forget to pack binoculars. They’ll save you lots of steps by quickly identifying something that resembles tines or a beam. Disappointment is normal if your steps turn into miles without scoring a single shed. But look at it this way. Your odds were far better walking those fields, than they were sprawled out on the couch watching TV!
The very best time to conduct a shed search is morning when you are (presumably) fresh and full of energy. Ideally, the best days are overcast. The lighter hue of antlers will contrast with the darker leaves or vegetation. Start before sunrise on days that promise to be sunny, as shadows actually camouflage antlers. If patches of snow or drifts still exist, hold off until bare ground. I like to hit the best areas first, then return later and finish the area using a grid search pattern. This scheme of searching cuts down on the length of exposure to critters who have a habit of dining on them. You may now have the green light to enter areas that were off limits (sanctuaries) during hunting season. Spook deer out of their beds while on a search? Better inspect that area because if it happened to be unpressured for an extended period, they might have spent several days bedding there.
Imagine how you would conduct a shed search if someone planted an antler on a parcel of ground, and challenged you to find it. You’d be extremely thorough, right? Visually mark off and search small areas at a time. Don’t tackle a huge expanse or you’ll get sloppy. Go slow! Sloppy searching allows branches, brush, cradle knolls, and other terrain to retain the prizes as you rush on by. There’re bound to be distractions of all sorts as you walk, so stop and get them out of your system before continuing on. And at the end of the day, retrace all the ground you covered by scanning an aerial map. That’ll show you how much territory in the nooks and crannies that you really missed, if any.
My friend Gordy Wesneski is a master shed hunter with over 400 drops in his collection. I once asked him, “What would be the single most useful piece of advice you’d share to entry-level shed seekers?” His answer? “Determination!” I agree. Regardless of when or how you search, if you’re determined to find an antler, you will.