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The Thrill of Shed Hunting

By on March 1, 2019

Tips For Hitting the Jackpot

By Bridget Fabel, RoadKing Outdoors Contributor

Every year from February through April, deer and elk start dropping their antlers. They “shed” naturally so the wild game can start over and grow larger antlers. Deer and elk finish growing out their antlers around August only to drop them again the following spring. The process of losing their antlers and watching them grow back in the velvet is extremely interesting and fun to follow.

When deer and elk are in the velvet, their main priority is to grow. The velvet antlers are extremely fragile and filled with blood. It is said that an elks’ antlers are the fastest growing bones on the planet. When elk and deer drop their antlers, shed hunters start hitting the hills in hopes of finding these left-behind treasures.

Since deer and elk start dropping their antlers in the winter and spring months, you’ll often find antlers in the animals’ winter ranges. If you go out looking for deer in late February and find where they’re living, that would be an excellent spot to start looking for antlers. Sometimes deer will shed one antler and not the other for a few days. This is a clear sign that its other antler must be close. Most animals’ winter ranges are at lower elevations than their summer ranges. Oftentimes high-country animals travel tens of miles away into flat areas to winter because they endure some brutal weather during the winter months, and they try to survive in the lowest, warmest places available.

A Typical Day of Shed Hunting

When I shed hunt, I often travel far away and go for multiday trips. I usually have a desired area in mind before I head out. On the first day, I wake up early and hit the hills at first light. The most important part of shed hunting is covering lots of ground. On an average day of shed hunting, I usually hike 10-16 miles depending on the terrain. The areas are often rugged, and far away from anyone and anything. This is where the animals live and feel comfortable. Sometimes when looking for antlers, you can find zero, or 20 in a day! The odds vary tremendously but the more ground you cover, the more likely you are to score.

Shed hunting is a lot like treasure hunting. When you’ve been hiking for miles and you see a big brown antler sparkling in the sunlight, it feels like you hit the jackpot. Every antler is so unique; it’s absolutely incredible. Finding the antler in the exact spot it fell off the animals’ head, and picking it up is a very special feeling. I personally shed hunt because I like the feeling of working hard to find something so unique and beautiful. Finding one antler and then searching everywhere for the other side, or “set” is also fun and very rewarding.

Uses of Shed AntlersFabel-Photo1

The reasons people shed hunt vary widely. Some actually shed hunt for a living. Antlers are very popular “dog chews.” Also, many Asian countries and religions use ground-up antlers for various rituals and remedies. Because of the high demand, antlers can be worth a lot of money. Depending on antlers’ ages and conditions, they can be sold for about $15 a pound. Most mature elk sets are well over 10 pounds. This means you can walk up on $150 in the woods just like that.

Although it’s really not that easy, some people do it for fun but realize they can sell off their findings and keep funding their passion. Besides shed hunting to make money, a lot of people shed hunt for making decorations. That’s the category I fall into. If you have watched any of my YouTube videos, you know that I throw a pile of antlers on my counter in my trailer and it’s considered “decorated.” Antlers make beautiful, natural decorations of all sorts. Some people make lamps, chandeliers, picture frames, and other household items out of them. Antler jewelry is also becoming popular among modern female hunters.

Respecting Wildlife during the Shed

Out west, shed hunting has become “the thing to do.” Most hunters don’t have a lot of other wintertime recreational activities, so shed hunting fills that void. Consequently, it has become extremely popular. Places where you could once shed hunt and never see a person, now have 15 people walking around on the weekends. Because of this, a lot of wildlife resource programs have set rules and regulations in place for shed hunting. Be sure to read your state’s rules before hitting the hills! If the animals are having a rough winter, getting into their ranges and looking for their antlers could bump them into more rugged country with fewer foraging opportunities. This can be dangerous since winter is such a fragile time for many wild animals. Keep in mind that they’re low on food and shelter in bad winters, and respect their spaces as you shed hunt.

Give It a TryFabel-Photo2

If you’ve never tried shed hunting before, I recommend getting out there and giving it a try. The worst that can happen is you go for a long nature walk and find no sheds. Still much better than a day on the job, if you ask me. Don’t be afraid to try it and get skunked; over time, you’ll figure it out and be rewarded each time you find one of these natural treasures. Look for signs of bone, and remember that older white antlers really stand out when the sun hits them. If you see something that looks promising, walk up to it and investigate! And don’t worry, even the most experienced shed hunters get fooled by tree branches on the ground once in awhile.

What-to-Bring Checklist:

Following are the essentials. You can supplement with anything else you’d like to bring, but keep in mind that unnecessary weight slows you down and tires you out. Also, be sure you know the weather forecast before hitting the trail. No need to get caught in a storm.

  • A good backpack with lots of accessory straps that can hold 80+ pounds of antlers (in hopes that you find a honey hole)
  • Plenty of snacks to keep you going
  • Lots of water
  • GPS if you get easily lost
  • Walkie talkies if you are going with
    friends, so you can call them in when
    you find a big one
  • Sturdy, comfortable boots for
    walking lots of miles
  • Extra layers for rapid weather changes
  • Binoculars



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