By Ben Gruber
Every winter whitetail deer, along with the other ungulates like elk and moose, will shed their antlers in preparation for a new year’s growth. This rather odd evolutionary cycle leaves us outdoors-people with another spring prize for which to search.
For us hunters, it is a promise of next fall. The bucks that survive long enough to shed their antlers most likely will be around for the fall, and they should be bigger too. For nonhunters, here is your chance to put your hands on some buck’s antlers while knowing that he is still out there in the woods.
By mid-March, almost all of the bucks will have lost their antlers. Usually they start dropping a few weeks after Christmas and are mostly done by now.
That is the difference between an antler and a horn. Horns stay, and antlers fall off every year.
Where do you find them? I usually start on the edges of fields where I know the deer spent a good chunk of their winter feeding. From there, I follow their trails to the bedding areas. If I still have not found any by that point, I usually head to the bar for a burger and a beer (but do not tell my wife as I think she still thinks I am at work). Fence lines can often produce too, as sometimes the antlers catch on the wire and fall off as a buck tries to work his way under. Mostly though, it is a matter of miles. Start walking and looking in areas where you know the deer spend a part of their winter.
It is easiest to spot sheds before the woods turns green. That being said, I still find most of mine while turkey hunting, but that is only because I spend more time in the woods then.
If you do find one antler, work in circles around where you found it. Often, the other antler will not be too far away. The bigger the antler, the more likely you are to find the other one close by. It is an odd load to carry one side only, and when a buck loses one, he will try to rub the other one off for the sake of balance.
I have used shed antlers to make knife handles, bottle openers, and corkscrews. They make interesting coffee table accessories too. My puppy has one that is a favorite chew toy. The uses are only limited by your imagination. I suspect they might make a handy backscratcher too.
While you are out searching for shed antlers, keep your eyes peeled for dead elm trees. You might get lucky enough to find some morel mushrooms there in a few weeks. Nothing beats a hatful of morels fried in butter.
I am ignoring the snow falling outside as I write. Spring is almost here.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.