Wednesday, March 27, 2013


    It was the first real week of spring.  The warm sun bathed the world in light, warming the water in local streams and allowing the dormant frames of trees to make considerable progress towards green, lush life.  I was 12 years old and out of school; and Winter’s grip on the fishing action was finally beginning to slip.

    My closest fishing hole was a dynamic warm-water creek, brushy and impenetrable about the margins, which just brushed the outer boundaries of our rural subdivision.  From the inside, the subdivided world was veiled, and an adventurous boy and happy-go-lucky black lab were free to fish and explore in what seemed a vast wilderness.
    Perhaps I was slightly optimistic, for the fish were absent from the frigid waters on that first trip of the year.  However, just before packing up for home, sunshine illuminated the tip of an ivory jewel shaded by a streamside root wad and caught my eye.  I quickly made my way over to half of an old “mountain eight’s” headpiece, and my bounding companion came over and inspected it with like enthusiasm.  I was awestricken and inspired by the thought of such an animal inhabiting those woods, and the course of the rest of the day was set.

    According to the DGIF, bucks began dropping antlers in mid-January, and some may have.  But reports from across the state suggest that many bucks may have either just recently dropped their racks or are still clinging to them, which was likely the case surrounding my first find.
    When deer shed their antlers is a concept dependent upon several variables, which effect individual animals differently, and make it hard to calculate just when the majority will fall.  However, there are some hints and facts to help guide you in your search.
    A male fawn will show indications of gender within several months of birth.  What hunters refer to as “buttons” atop these yearlings’ heads are called pedicels, and the thin layer of skin that covers them serve as the starting points for antler growth when certain hormonal triggers occur.
    Coming with the hormonal catharsis that follows the mating season, and in response to lengthening days, a layer of bone at the base of the antler and above the pedicel begins to weaken.  Eventually, the antler will fall away altogether.
    Therefore, good places to concentrate shed hunting efforts include fence and creek crossings—anywhere a powerful leap or landing might compromise a buck’s frail crown—and areas of thick cover traversed by game trails, where bucks will retreat to in hiding from late-season hunting pressure, and where the mass of branches and briars make it difficult to hold onto a pair of fleeting antlers
    Still, not all antlers are lost at these “pinch-points.”  Your goal should be to cover as much high-percentage ground as possible.  In doing this, take into consideration where deer are likely to spend the majority of their time.  South-facing slopes make great expansive locations to scour because they receive the most sunlight—think, warmth—over the course of a cold winter day.  Bedding areas, key winter food sources, and popular watering holes are also prominent potential resting places for antlers by the same line of reasoning.
    It falls to reason, in deciding on a general location to hunt for sheds, that you seek an area with a high-density deer population.  While this is not always true (high-density doesn’t always mean lots of bucks), it’s a good piece of logic from which to build.  If you question that even a single deer has set foot on your hunting lease by the end of the season due to high hunting pressure, consider areas nearby that may serve as a haven for wary bucks.  Landowners are more susceptible to a sportsmen asking for property access for shed hunting than those asking to hunt and carry a firearm, so don’t let nerves deter you from asking.
    In terms of public land, federal- and state-managed properties are great habitats to walk, but don’t rule out the smaller overlooked tracts.  Little, tucked-away natural areas or public parks with lots of wooded cover likely harbor a large deer population because they prohibit hunting, but are also less likely to attract other shed hunters.

    A piece of land inhabited by deer, a map, and a backpack prepared for a day’s hike are the only necessary ingredients to successful shed hunting.  Keep in mind the habits of whitetails and their movements, and focus heavily on areas of high promise.  Walk slowly, and be thorough.  Shed hunting can be a great way to experience the woods as they come alive, and can provide insight into the life of a much sought-after animal.

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