Shed Antlers Teach You

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Photo by Steve Sorensen

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Back in the day when most of the bucks hunters killed in Pennsylvania were adolescent deer wearing their first set of antlers, the surviving bucks still shed (or “cast”) their antlers but few hunters found them. One reason was that hunters put lots of pressure on bucks, so the small percentage of survivors were the only bucks shedding antlers.

Another reason was that most antlers were from young bucks a year and a half old. They were small, and quickly gnawed to nothing by porcupines, or quickly covered up by forest debris. When a shed hunter is training his eye to look for a curved ivory object with multiple points, those yearling antlers didn’t show up well enough to catch his eye.

Back then, midwestern corn state hunters found many more cast antlers than we did back east, because midwestern bucks lived to be three, four, five or more years old. The antlers those bucks shed had eye-catching features: good mass, well-curved main beams, and multiple long tines. From a size standpoint, they were far easier to spot than our small spikes or forked “Y” antlers.

Anyone who was finding antlers on a regular basis here in the east probably had access to a property with limited hunters where deer could live long enough to grow mature antlers. For various reasons, all that has changed. (In Pennsylvania, one reason is an antler restriction policy.)

I’m not an expert shed hunter, but I know someone who is an expert. If I spend the time I’ll find two or three, but Steve Sherk, Jr., of Bradford, Pennsylvania, finds 20 or 30 every spring. He knows not only where to find them, he also knows why to find them. Here’s what he says.

Recently I had someone ask me in a joking way why I collect shed antlers, as if it was a meaningless hobby. So, I’ll explain why we shed hunters do what we do.

When I find a shed antler, it’s a gift that gives me a lot of different things. Often it’s a piece of history with a deer that I hunted—many times a consolation prize for failing to harvest the animal.

Every time I find an antler it’s a clue about where that animal lives and travels. A piece of the puzzle. It will help me as a hunter to hunt that animal more efficiently and effectively.

To me, an antler is a gift that sparks my imagination. I tend to wonder about all the places that buck had traveled throughout the year. I’ve told myself, “If only that antler could tell me everywhere it went, boy what a better hunter I would be!”

A shed antler is a buck’s battle weapon. It’s like collecting a sword or knife from an old warrior. I think of the battles that buck fought throughout the rut. And all the territory he marked with it.

When all is said and done, I’ll eventually hang it up on the crossbeams of my basement along with all the other ones. Often, I’ll take one down and strike up memories of that buck. Hanging those shed antlers keeps my mind focused on the season ahead. It helps me create and accomplish the goals I set as a hunter. They are definitely more than just deer antlers!

An antler is a bone connected to the head bone, but each one is a unique appendage. No two are alike. That uniqueness sticks with the person who finds the antler. The smallest, simplest antlers may look nearly identical, but they will have unique traits and color that will distinguish one from another. Sherk has found dozens upon dozens, maybe hundreds, and he can tell you something about each one. The antler can tell you something too. An antler found in shed hunting season might lead you to harvest the same buck next killing season.

For a serious deer hunter, killing season never closes but hunting season is always open. It’s shed hunting season now, so get out and look.

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. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).