Hunting for shed antler an obsession

Those of you who follow my column likely have read some of my stories about shed hunting in the past and know what I’m talking about.
For those of you that have not heard the term shed hunting before, it refers to looking, or “hunting,” for shed deer and moose antlers–not looking for sheds that can be found in the backyards of most area residences.
The reason I make this clarifications is that I’ve had a few people look at me funny and wonder what I’m talking about when I tell them that I’m going shed hunting recently.
The second question that I’m asked the most is what do you do with the antlers?
Before I reveal all of the things that we do with these antlers, I have to tell how hard we work to find them. With the major decline the deer population has taken across Sunset Country over the past few years due to some rough winters, a decline in quality food, and an excessive wolf population, there are fewer sheds out there to find than there were five years ago.
But we still hit the woods to look for them.
Deer and moose drop their antlers each winter and grow a new set through the spring and summer months each year.
There are some patterns to finding sheds. Most deer will drop their antlers in places where they bed down to sleep or keep a lookout, so think hills where they have a good vantage point or where they can sit in the sun to absorb some of its heat during the cold winter months.
For this reason, the south sides of hills or ridges that receive direct sunlight in the winter are high percentage spots.
Some deer also will drop their sheds on the trails that they use to travel on, so it pays to walk on major game trails as much as possible.
Those of us who enjoy looking for shed antlers put on many miles walking in the woods looking for these little trophies. Each antler is different in terms of size and the way they grow, so they are all unique in their own way.
We’ll find some that are fresh from the previous winter and still have a beautiful dark colour. Older sheds fade to white relatively quickly from exposure to the sun.
The hard work comes from walking in the woods in this country. As many of you know, it’s not exactly a pleasure to walk through some of the thick blown-down brush, the plentiful swamps and bogs, or steep hills that make up our landscape.
To find the most sheds, you need to get as remote as possible—to those hills that are a mile back in the woods off the road. These are places that hunters never get to and receive little human contact, so there is a better chance at finding good numbers of old sheds and big sheds because the deer get a good opportunity to grow to an old age.
Obviously, there are healthy populations of deer living safely in our communities across the region, so looking in town is probably not a bad idea.
I spent a few days over the past week looking for sheds with some friends who travelled to Sunset Country from southern Ontario and Minnesota. One of the guys had a pedometer that measured how much walking we did and at the end of an eight-hour day, we had logged around 11 miles–great exercise, believe me.
As for what we do with the sheds, it’s mostly about the experience of getting out there to find them. I have a pile of literally hundreds of sheds outside in my yard. They are a cool lawn decoration.
I have some of my best finds hanging in the house on a cedar pole we actually use for our Christmas tree. And eventually I’d love to start making things with them–things like lamps, knife handles, and cupboard handles.
The options are endless.
It’s a great time of year to get outside and walk, and shed hunting is a social activity that many people can take part in.
If you get the bug, it can become a good obsession.