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Shed Hunting Treasures

By on January 1, 2020

The Fastest Growing Bones on the Planet

By BRIDGET FABEL,
Roadking Outdoors Contributor

In the January-February 2019 issue of RoadKing, you learned that elk antlers are considered by many to be the fastest-growing bones on the planet. Based on the many responses to last year’s article, the timing is right to share some additional tips and tricks with you. Serious shed hunting is in full swing across the country from February through April.

Elk and deer antlers have decorated homes for hundreds of years. They’re also sought after as dog chews for your furry Travel Buddies. If you’ve never been shed hunting, perhaps you’ve wondered where to find big, beautiful antlers in the wild? Finding your elk and deer antlers feels like finding a pirate’s treasure in the woods. Each February, I journey out into the mountains in search of the beautiful antlers that I admire so much.

Finding Deer Antlers

Starting in February, deer begin shedding their antlers and growing new ones. These antlers naturally and painlessly fall off their heads and drop to the ground for humans to find and enjoy. Deer can lose both their antlers in a day, or go weeks between dropping the first and second antler. To find deer antlers, you need to find and study their winter ranges, so you can be “in the zone” where they’re dropping their antlers. Deer like to hang out in the lowlands to survive the rough winter months, and that’s always a good starting point.

After finding their winter ranges, observe them until you notice that the bucks have dropped their antlers. I like to start looking for antlers a couple of weeks after they’ve dropped. Winter is a tough time for wild game, and it’s important not to be out there pushing and scaring them when they’re getting ready to drop their antlers. I find that midday is a great time to begin your search. When looking, grid an area that has good deer tracks and signs. Look down and try to spot those beautiful tines showing themselves in the dirt. They’re truly a beautiful and rewarding sight. 

Finding Elk Antlers

Elk drop their antlers a little later in the year, typically around late March. I like to look for elk antlers in April when they’ve dropped and your odds of finding multiple sets are increased. Once you find an antler, it’s always good to look for its match. I like to work hard to try and find as many matches as possible because matched sets are simply the best. Often, finding a matched set is like finding a needle in a haystack. When it happens, it feels like I’ve hit the jackpot.

Elk antlers are heavy. A mature elk antler often weighs 10+ pounds. Because of this, a good day of shed hunting typically means you’re coming out of the mountains with a very heavy pack. I like bringing tons of snacks and water on my adventures, so I’m set for a long, tough day of hiking. It’s always good to be prepared with emergency essentials such as a lighter, fire starter, and first aid equipment. 

Like deer, finding an elk herd’s winter range gives you the best chance of finding success in the hills. Remember, be prepared to hike far and hard to give yourself the best odds of finding some beautiful antlers. Fresh deer and elk antlers will be brown, and sometimes have blood on their burrs where they fell off the animal’s head. Depending on the amount of sunshine, antlers will remain in a “hard white” condition for one to four years. After this, antlers tend to become chalky, start to crack and fall apart. Even when antlers become chalky, they can maintain their form and shape for 10+ years. It’s always fun to find an ancient chalk antler, knowing that no human likely had walked in that area for many years.

Bountiful Shed Story

One fine April day, I set out seeking a new spot with high hopes of finding some antlers. Pretty early on, I found a beautiful 6-point antler, and then a side-by-side 5-point set. After bombing off the mountain, I found an amazing 6-point antler with a cool hook cheater. I looked around for both of the 6-point antler’s matches but was unsuccessful. On the way out, I found another side-by-side 6-point set. Next thing you know, I had six mature elk sheds on my back, weighing somewhere around 60 pounds. It was a rough hike out, to say the least. That day yielded 16 miles of hiking. Not finding the cheater bull’s match haunted me, so I went back a couple of days later to find it. I was lucky and found it in a thick section of cedar trees. I couldn’t believe it. This elk antler set is one of my favorites to date.  

About Warren Eulgen

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