People think I’m an expert hunter because I write about hunting for newspapers and magazines. I never claim to be, and that’s one reason this column is called “The Everyday Hunter” and not “The Expert Hunter.”
One place where I’m no expert is in finding shed antlers. I don’t find many, which is why I’m writing about why we don’t find them rather than how to find them. So far this year I haven’t found any, though I’ve been out looking only a couple of times. That brings me to the first reason we don’t find more shed antlers.
1. We don’t look enough. My fingers and toes will count all the sheds I’ve ever found, but I probably spend only 10 to12 hours looking each spring. Those who find more are those who look more. It’s that simple. Spend a hundred hours, and you’ll find more than I find.
2. It’s hard to locate the ideal place. Here in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York, finding antlers isn’t easy unless we look in the ideal place — like the time I found five in the span of two hours. What made that place ideal? A farmer dumped a pile of soured grain and it became a magnet to deer, drawing them from their cover and herding them together in the right place at the right time — the time bucks were ready to shed.
3. Deer don’t always feed in the same place. Unless deer have a regular feeding spot when they’re ready to shed, they could drop their antlers anywhere. They probably have a fairly consistent bedding area, but might have a maze of trails heading to different food sources. That can spread shed antlers from a mere handful of deer far and wide, some of them in cover that’s hard for the human to penetrate.
4. Shed hunters have more competition than ever. While the number of deer hunters has declined over the last decade or so, the number of serious deer hunters may have increased. More and more are hunting for sheds, and many have been hunting for the last couple of months. On evenings, weekends, and even midweek, the places you hunt are likely being hunted by someone else. He’ll find the antlers that are easiest to find.
5. We get additional competition from porcupines, coyotes and other critters. Where porkys are plentiful they’ll quickly gnaw antlers to dust to consume the calcium in them. Coyotes will drag them off. Squirrels and mice, though not as efficient as the quilled rodents, will also eat them.
6. Some deer drop antlers early. As early as December, antlers begin falling. Some hunters start searching that early. But a caution is in order. That’s when bucks are under stress, worn down from the rut and from the frenzy of hunters invading their space. Early shedding is often caused by stress, so don’t bother bucks that are already depleted of energy.
7. Big deer produce big antlers, but big deer are scarce. Yes, some isolated places in this part of the country harbor a few bucks with massive antlers and have a good population of mature 3½ to 5½ year olds — nice bucks even if their racks are only average for their age. But we put a lot of pressure on antlered deer in the most accessible areas, and shoot most bucks before they reach maturity. Most shed antlers come from small bucks, and small antlers are hard to spot.
Those are some of the reasons we don’t find more shed antlers. You’re expert enough to think of additional reasons, including more people training dogs to find them.
Finding big sheds this spring might be the secret to killing a big buck this fall, but even if it’s not, spring is a wonderful time to be in the woods. If you need motivation to get out and get your legs in shape, one motivation is the chance of finding a nice shed antler.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. To read more of Steve Sorensen’s thoughts about hunting, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.