Shed antler hunting is a game we take seriously at the farm. We learn a lot from the time we spend in the woods looking for antlers, which taunted us all season long. For example, every year I learn my old eyes ain’t what they used to be. I have also learned that no matter how much thought and effort I put into making a deer antler necklace (the only acceptable reason for a man to look at Pinterest), my wife prefers something a little shinier on Valentine’s Day. But most importantly, we learn more about the land we manage.
To be a good shed antler hunter, it helps to be a good deer hunter. You’re targeting the areas as you would if you were hunting in the fall – food sources, bedding areas and the funnels and trails that connect these destinations. However, the food sources and bedding areas change between fall and winter. You need to scout a little to find active areas.
When you find a shed antler, it might as well be screaming, “Here’s your sign!” You just found a portion of a buck’s home range. This is good information to have in your back pocket when next December rolls around. If your fall spots aren't serving up deer sightings after the rut, hunt the areas where you found sheds. In addition to giving you clues about a deer’s behavior and patterns, shed hunting can also give feedback on the health of your herd.
We spend a lot of time at the farm to make sure deer have all the means they need to reach their potential. It's nice to get confirmation that it's working or that something needs to be tweaked. Last spring—the first after we started a new mineral feeding program—we collected 140 shed antlers, and only one had a pedicle tear; that’s less than 1 percent.
Before we started using this different mix of minerals, we saw parts of the pedicle still attached in 8-12 percent of shed antlers we found, meaning the pedicles were weak and there wasn't a clean break between the antler and the pedicle bases. There’s solid proof that the mineral program we're implementing now is much better for deer than the previous one we used.
Besides comparing pedicles, you can find sheds each year from the same deer and compare the growth. Is he going to be on the hit list next year? Or is his growth rate telling you that a few more years are needed to reach full maturity?
If you thought shed hunting was just a way to cure cabin fever, think again. The information learned from finding antlers, if used in your land management and hunting practices, will pay off. So pay attention out there. Study and investigate what you find. Then, after you close the case and draw conclusions, you can start making antler jewelry for your wife or girlfriend. She's going to love it!