The shed antler season is conveniently tucked right between the end of deer season and the beginning of spring gobbler season. Although it’s an unofficial season, that’s when the most serious hunters head for the woods to look for shed antlers in New York and Pennsylvania.
“Why?” you might ask. “If the hunter didn’t shoot the buck, why does he want to collect the bones that fall from a buck’s head?” It’s a fair question, with several answers.
First, hunting for shed antlers provides an opportunity for the hunter to exercise his legs after a winter of sedentary time. Just as a long, cold, snowy winter can weaken wildlife, it can also cause hunters to lose conditioning. Walking the woods two or three times per week for a couple of hours can restore the physical decline brought on by winter doldrums. Spring is also a good time to break in a new pair of boots, set out a few trail cameras, and inspect possible stand sites.
Second, people collect antlers for their unique beauty. Antlers are as individual as the deer it came from, as unique as snowflakes and fingerprints. Their uniqueness is built into the buck’s DNA, so no two bucks ever have identical headgear. But a buck’s individual history is also unique. An antler might have a groove caused by rubbing against a strand of barbed wire, or a hole bored by a parasitic bot fly when the antler was soft. An antler might be ivory in color, or chocolate, or any shade between. Its configuration follows a general pattern from year to year as it gets larger, but injuries elsewhere on the buck’s body can cause antler deformities.
Third, some people display the beauty of shed antlers. While mounted deer heads can be magnificent and artistic, so can the innovative exhibition of antlers. From simple methods of hanging them on the wall, to adorning light fixtures with them, to stacking antlers into the shape of a Christmas tree, the creativity of antlers on display is limited only by a person’s imagination.
Fourth, when a hunter finds a shed antler, it teaches him some things worth knowing. It’s almost a sure thing that the buck survived the hunting season. The hunter may also learn something about where that buck traveled, bedded and fed. That information will be valuable come next hunting season. The antler might also teach the hunter something about the buck’s health. A convex shape to the base and a late shedding time indicates that the buck was well-nourished and unstressed. A jagged or concave shape might indicate the deer lost the antler early due to environmental stresses such as a shortage of food, predatory pressure, or a health issue.
Fifth, walking to bedding areas and feeding areas before spring green-up gives the hunter lots of information about deer trails, feeding habits, escape routes, rub lines and other activity deer engage in when hunters aren’t pursuing them and they’re trying to conserve energy during the cold and snowy months. It also clues the hunter to activity of other animals, including turkeys. Although the weeks that remain until turkey season opens gives the big birds plenty of time to change their patterns, the information gleaned is still valuable, so scouting for turkeys and hunting for shed antlers fit nicely together.
Back in the days when hunters shot too many young bucks, few people looked for sheds and not many found them. Hunters are now more selective about what they shoot, whether due to regulations or personal choice, so more bucks live to shed their antlers. Antlers are always fascinating, whether on the buck’s head or lying on the ground, and just because the bucks have no more use for antlers doesn’t mean hunters don’t have reasons to look for them.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.