You know deer and moose lose their antlers every winter, right? I’ve known this for a while but until last year it never occurred to me that these antlers don’t just disappear. Once I discovered “shed hunting” (cool way to say “finding antlers in the woods”), I was hooked. As the snow starts to melt in the coming weeks and months, you might want to take a walk in the woods to see if you can find these beautiful natural treasures.
First, let me just say we are not opposed to hunting and/or eating wild game. We’ve never hunted (unless foraging counts!), but if we get our paws on some moose steaks or venison sausage, we rejoice and try to treat the meat extra special for a fancy meal. Owning a gun just isn’t something I’m interested in right now. Plus I bet they’re expensive!
Something about hunters that I envy is the perfectly acceptable excuse they have to hang out in the woods for extended periods of time. An early morning drive, loading the gear neatly into a pack, and hiking to the perfect scouted spot. Coffee, sunshine, and peace await. I love that stuff. Being in the forest for even a few minutes can clear your mind and help you to relax. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Usually I get my dose of sunshine and peace with a hike. I’m fortunate to live among NH’s White Mountains, where a multitude of fantastic hikes are possible any day of the week. It’s great exercise and never fails to deliver something special, be it a patch of beautiful white birches glowing in the sunrise or panoramic views of hundreds of peaks. But sometimes a strenuous hike is a bit much with the stresses of daily life–not to mention the conflicting sleep patterns caused by toddlers and newborns.
Shed hunting is the best of both worlds. The adventure of hunting combined with the fulfillment of a hike, all a pace slow enough for a two year old. There is no specific time of day or length of time required. You can start and stop whenever you want.
I like to go with my daughter. She keeps me company and helps sing songs with crazy lyrics about our adventure looking for antlers.
Where to Look for shed antlers
The first step to finding antlers is to find a decent location. You want to go where the bucks and bulls are in the winter. Sometimes this is easy, like when you see one hop across the road. But if you aren’t so lucky, keep in mind that all animals will hang out near good food sources in the scarce time of year. Look near farms that might have crops deer and moose might want to steal or somewhat recently cleared woods that will be boasting some new growth they enjoy.
Once you find a location, see if you can find some evidence of where they like to hang out and the trails they follow. And by evidence I mean poop and tracks. The droppings are easily recognizable in their pellet/ball form, smaller for bucks and much larger for moose.
Depending on where you look, you might have some serious competition. To increase my chances of success, I like to look early in the morning, either during the week or on Saturday to beat the weekend hikers. I typically avoid major trails or even snowmobile trails, since there will likely be more people who could have already snatched up a shed before you even get a chance. Also be sure to start looking earlier in the season, so get out the snowshoes and don’t wait until the ground is bare.
Sticks in the woods can look so much like an antler. This is probably the most frustrating part of this leisurely hobby, but believe it or not, the more practice you get the easier it is to scan through the leaves and sticks and pick out an antler. It really just takes practice if you are doing it when there’s no snow.
My recommendation is to look while there is still snow on the ground (assuming you live in an area with snow!), but wait until it has begun to melt. This way the sticks and leaves from past seasons will be all the way beneath the snow, but antlers will be on top or only partly buried, slowly revealing themselves as the depth of white diminishes around it. For a lot of regions, March is the time to do this. Look for the points protruding from the snow.
The color of antlers varies a bit, so don’t rely on color recognition alone. Some can be completely white while others can be a deep brown to almost black.
Get out there and keep looking!
Now you just need to persevere and scour the land. Walk where you think the deer walk, and pay special attention to obstacles they may have to leap over, like rock walls or fallen trees, as the force of landing and the likelihood of hitting branches overhead is increased when they hop.
A good tip to save some walking is to use binoculars so you can verify a stick in the distance is in fact a stick, saving yourself the walk.
Good luck, and let us know what you find!