Hunting Shed Antlers

Published: 21st May 2006
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Gathering Antlers

If you've got cabin fever at the end of a long winter, one of the most fun and potentially worthwhile activities you can do in deer, moose or elk country is look for shed antlers, aka "sheds". All antlered animals including deer, elk, moose, and caribou shed their antlers and grow new ones each year. Except for caribou, only the males grow antlers. Female caribou grow somewhat spindly antlers and, while they're easier to find, they are not nearly as impressive as the beautiful racks of the males.

Horns, on the other hand are not shed each year but grow continually throughout the animal's life. Horns are grown by animals such as the mountain sheep, mountain goat and bison. An exception to this rule is the Pronghorn antelope which annually sheds a bony sheath which covers its horns.

So, right after the snows melt just enough to expose the sheds, before the grasses get too high and before the rodents have a chance to knaw away at your prize, get yourself and your family up into deer country and start looking. Since most antlered animals shed during the later months of winter your best bet will be to go where you've seen the deer "yard up"--that is group together in herds. Deer will do this during the winter months to make movement through the snow an easier chore since they can often follow the tracks of their comrades.

When you find a nice shed, it's a good idea to look for its mate within a 50-100 yard radius of your find. Sheds will often fall when a buck has jumped an obstacle such as a fence, creekbed or a steep bank. So those locations are prime spots to find your treasure.

Caring For Your Sheds

A striking shed antler is a prize in the eyes of any hunter, but many successful shed seekers have been disappointed to find their prizes deteriorating even when they thought they were protected from weather and/or rodents. The only place to keep a valuable shed antler is indoors, preferably in an environment where temperature and humidity are controlled year-round. If the antler retains it's normal coloration, a couple of coats of paste floor wax buffed to a hard shine is all that's needed to preserve it indefinitely. If chalking has begun, soaking the antler in warm linseed oil until it stops absorbing the oil will keep it as sound as possible, but do not use antlers so treated for rattling--the oil makes them brittle and they'll shatter on a cold morning. I speak from sad experience. I've not tried clear, nonyellowing urethane spar varnish, but it should preserve antlers as well as it does gunstocks. It's expensive, but one-in-a-lifetime shed deserves the best.

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