Late winter is a quiet time for many bowhunters, but it’s rich with excitement for those who use that time to hunt shed antlers.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s like a big Easter egg hunt,” said Jeremy Moore, a shed hunter, professional dog trainer, and owner of Dog Bone Hunter. “It’s also a really great way to introduce people to the outdoors.”
Some shed hunters use specially trained dogs to help them find sheds, and have even more fun with man’s best friend. To train a shed-hunting dog, you don’t need an expensive dog or specific breed.
“The dog you choose needs to match your lifestyle and training style,” Moore said. “I’ve seen just about every breed be successful shed dogs, from beagles, shepherds, pit bulls and pointing dogs.”
Moore has a three-step system to train your family dog to find sheds.
“The first thing we want a dog to understand is that an antler means retrieve,” he said. “So when they see an antler, it flips a switch in their mind to retrieve.”
To introduce dogs to antlers, Moore’s company makes a soft training antler that won’t injure your dog. The soft trainer is important because it prevents painful, negative experiences that can make dogs avoid antlers.
“The next step introduces the scent of an antler,” Moore said. “I want dogs that use their nose just as much as their eyes. The scent in the Antler Retrieving System can be used on the training antler and tennis balls.”
To train dogs to search for antlers with their nose, Moore recommends applying antler scent to a tennis ball, tossing it into cover, and letting the dog search it out. The ball absorbs scent and leaves a trail as it bounces and settles into the cover.
Once your dog can find the antler and retrieve it from cover, connect the activities with a training exercise. “I drop the training antler with the dog on heel,” Moore said. “Then I walk away, wait a minute, point the dog in the direction of the antler, and let him retrieve the antler.”
The final step is to introduce your dog to a real antler. Moore suggests applying antler scent on the shed for familiarity.
Moore suggests making the training sessions short and engaging. He also stresses that training a dog is a time-consuming process. “You should see some results instantly, but it will take a few seasons before they’re in their prime,” he said.
Finding sheds is much like hunting deer. “First, we find the food sources, then we look for the bedding areas, and then we put together a plan for working the area,” Moore said.
Seek areas where deer spend the most time. That’s where you’ll likely find their antlers. A little snow can help you find these areas. “I like to go shed hunting when the snow just starts to melt, because antlers stick out when there’s a little snow,” Moore said. “Tracks in the snow provide a roadmap for where to look for sheds.” Tracks also provide clues on where to hang treestands in the fall.
Now is the right time of year for shed hunting, and there’s no time to lose. Lace up your boots this weekend, and take your dog hiking to find antlers and next year’s hunting spots.