When your buddy asks you to go shed hunting, accept the invitation. It’s not like you’re being asked to help clean his house or move his 250-pound freezer. He’s asking you to join a treasure hunt for fallen antlers.
A quick explanation for novices: White-tailed bucks grow new antlers each year. The antlers start growing in early spring and usually grow larger every year, depending on the buck’s age, as well as the habitat, nutrition and water availability. As a buck’s testosterone levels decline after the rut, antlers start losing their hold atop the buck’s skull. Between December and February, they’ll naturally and painlessly fall off. In rarer cases, some antlers break off during fights, or when running into vehicles or tree limbs.
For most outdoorsmen, hunting for shed antlers is a sport unto itself. It’s exciting to find sheds, as these comments attest:
“I love the find. Shed-hunting lets me find new spots where the deer are running that I normally can’t see. You never know what you’ll find. You might just stumble onto your next hit-list buck.” – Jim Ryman
“It’s good exercise and it’s a friendly competition between me and my wife to see who finds the biggest ones.” – Daniel Lamb
“I shed-hunt just to get out of the house, and do a little turkey scouting.” – Eric Cerney
Bucks seldom drop both antlers at the same time. You might find one side along a woods’ edge, and the other side in a cut cornfield hundreds of yards away. That makes finding them so fun, and finding a matched pair priceless.
Once you find a shed, what do you do with it? Some people give smaller sheds to their dogs to chew on, or they use them to train their dogs to hunt for sheds. (Yes, shed-hunting dogs are real.)
“Antlers contain lots of good minerals, and it takes forever to wear down. They don’t have an odor or any dye in them, so they won’t stain your furniture or carpet.” – Cody Daniels
Other sheds can be used to make rattle kits for next year’s hunt, natural pieces of home décor, or parts of chandeliers or table lamps. Some folks make door handles, knives and pens from them. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Boy Scouts collected shed elk antlers to make large sidewalk arches in the town square.
Another reason to hunt sheds is financial. Deer antlers are highly sought commodities desired by craftsmen, decorators, dog-treat companies and more. They can fetch some big bucks (pardon the pun). There’s a huge market for them on eBay, where small sets of antlers bleached by sunlight and gnawed by rodents (they’re rich in calcium) might earn you enough for lunch. In fact, a large, freshly shed matched pair could fetch enough cash to buy a quality bow. Find and sell a few more sets, and you’ve got enough for a better bow, arrows and accessories.
Antlers generally sell online for around $25 per pound, but increase in value depending on their size, condition and weight – and who’s buying.
Whatever your reason for hunting sheds, it’s best to wait to start looking until after the new year. That’s when their numbers start increasing, improving your chances of finding one or more.
A few cautions: If a hunting season is open, wear blaze orange to stay safe. Also check your state’s big-game regulations for rules and regulations on shed-antler hunting. Some states forbid collecting sheds. Others forbid hunting and collecting sheds on public land. Still other states and provinces deem it illegal to sell sheds or transport them over the state line or border.
Shed-hunting itself also has its rewards. It’s a great way to learn how deer use the land you’re hunting. It’s also great exercise for you, your family and your dog.
Also know this: Don’t bother asking other shed-hunters where they found their latest treasure. They won’t tell you. That’s the reality of hunting for hidden treasure. The fewer people who know, the better.