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outdoors Fun of deer season never ends when you hunt shed antlers

By James K. Joslin

This article was published May 2, 2010 at 4:21 a.m.

— The first shed white-tailed deer antler I found was a discovery that came about totally by accident. I didn’t deer hunt when I was a teenager because I had no place to go hunting. But while out quail hunting one day, I stumbled across a small three-pointed piece of antler that signaled a young buck had been in that exact same spot just days before. I have held on to that shed to this day, and I’ve also learned a great deal more about antlers and antler sheds in the years since that find.

We all know that the size of a buck’s antlers is how many - if not most - hunters judge a deer’s desirability.What’s intriguing about those antlers is that they are grown and shed each year, usually growing more points, more mass and/or more length with each year until a buck’s fifth or sixth set of antlers. This cycle is opposed to the permanence that is seen in the growth of horns found on animals such as rams, pronghorn antelope and others.

So that means that a 150-inch B oone and Crockett buck had no headgear in February or March, then grew all those inches of antler in the spring and summer months. This, the fact that the whitetail’s antlers are among the fastest-growing living materials known to man makes for some of the mystique that comes with seeing or harvesting a true giant white-tailed buck.

Considering all the hullabaloo that comes with taking a heavy-antlered buck, it should come then as no surprise that many hunters also receive enjoyment from searching for the shed antlers after deer season comes to a close.

Deer hunters are now, in fact, heading back into the woods in ever-greater numbers to search for sheds. This increase in shed hunting’s popularity has come about for a variety of reasons, including the booming use of white-tailed deer antlers in home decor for such items as chandeliers, table or lamp bases, hat or coat racks and so on.

Pondering why so many hunters, and even nonhunters, are now turning the leaves in search of sheds, I got in touch with a friend of mine who operates a guided hunting service in a part of northeast Missouri known as “Booner Alley.” That moniker is earned because the area has a strong reputation for annually producing bucks that score in the 170s or higher on the Boone and Crockett scale. Such a qualification, as you can imagine, means that Hank Fisher of Lone Oak Outfitting (www.loneoakoutfitting.com) has seen his share of large bucks and large sheds over the years.

Fisher, who is an injectionmolding foreman by trade, has been hunting for more than 25 of his 36 years.

“My dad, Jerry Fisher, got me into deer hunting. I started early on, around the age of 9,” Fisher reminisced, noting that some of those childhood hunts were on the same 289-acre farm that was then owned by his grandmother and is still hunted today by him, his relatives and a select group of their friends.

Like me, Fisher got interested in shed hunting through his deer hunting.

“Shed hunting is just something I kind of picked up on my own,” he began.

“My friends and family talked about it a lot, and I had seen it on some shows on the Outdoor Channel and read some articles. It was really just another excuse to get out in the woods.” There are actually several reasons that Fisher has become an avid shed hunter, he explained.

“I like to find them because I think they are great tools to use for the upcoming hunting season. It gives you an idea of what is still around after the hunting season is over,” he said, then added, “I also think they are just plain cool. ... I love finding a big shed antler. It’s just fun for me to do.” As for the viability of sheds being hunting tools, Fisher offered this example.

“One year, I found a real nice nontypical antler on Easter Sunday. It had a split brow tine, kickers and about 12 scoreable points. It taped out at around 72 inches. I was able to get this deer on trail camera that same summer, and we were able to set up in the general area this deer was that next hunting season,” he recalled.

While Fisher and his hunters never got a shot at the buck, the knowledge of where that deer called home helped a neighbor to harvest him a year later. The buck grossed more than 170 inches of antler.

“So, it helps to know where they live during the ‘off ’ season,” Fisher concluded, then stressing, “but it in no way is a guarantee of harvesting that animal during hunting season.”

Shed hunting can also result in the discovery of animals that were not retrieved for harvest during the previous season, or animals that were unable to make it through a particularly bitter winter. I’ve personally found examples of both while out looking for sheds during the past decade. This only enhances shed hunting’s value as a way to take a snapshot of your area’s deer herd and health.

Usua l ly b eg inning his shed-hunting forays around Valentine’s Day and ceasing them near the start of spring turkey season in April, Fisher said his memorable finds have included ever ything from spikes to one antler that measured 82 inches. In fact, it was a 2007 find by businesspartner Phil Scifres that got Fisher into the guided-hunting arena.

Those sheds, which they

believe came off two different bucks, each measured more than 70 inches.

“It really got us fired up about this outfitting business,” Fisher said.

Of course, there are a few tricks to hunting for sheds. The gist of the concept is thinking like a deer. In other words, if you were a deer, where would you be walking?

“Basically, when I go by myself, I can’t cover a ton of ground, so I stick to the heavier trails and try to find places where a deer has to jump a fence or ditch. I like to walk cut corn fields, fence lines where there is a trail, bedding areas, ditch crossings where they have to jump or where it rattles their heads around, water holes and mineral licks,” Fisher related. “I’ve found the majority of my sheds at ditch crossings and fence crossings. These are my favorite spots because of the success I’ve had finding sheds there.”

Also, Fisher cautions that hunting pressure can directly affect one’s success in finding sheds following deer season.

“If you are hunting an area hard a ton of the time, the bigger, older bucks are more than likely not going to be inthat area to drop their antlers later in the year. They get big and old for a reason. They get pressure; they disappear.If you leave a bedding area alone and make it a sanctuary for deer during the hunting season, chances are you will find some sheds in that area come spring.”

In addition, shed hunting may mean thinking like a deer hunter. It all depends on what you hope to find. That means shed-hunting results will generally correlate to the deer density, buck-to-doe ratio and buck quality in any given location.

“Good genetics and the proper age structure help with finding the real good or great sheds in the off season,” Fisher explained. “I am by no means a professional shed hunter. I’ve had some success, but that is more a product ofthe deer on our leases.”

While shed hunting is a way for Fisher and many others to get an edge in their deer hunting - and a way to add some income for others, it is often something much simpler that draws people to the woods looking for these deer decorations.

“The cool thing about shedhunting in Missouri (and in Arkansas) is there is no permit required, no limit to what you can find,” Fisher said. “You just never know what you will find, what is out there. It is so much fun walking and searching for these things Yes, it can be very frustrating too, but being in the outdoors doing something - whether it’s hunting, fishing or shed hunting - is what I love.”

To borrow and change the context of the lyrics from a 1967 Motown hit by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, I second that emotion.

If you are going to look for sheds during the spring turkey season, remember to avoid locations where you are likely to encounter hunters. So, wearing a hunter-orange vest and/orhat is a good idea. Furthermore, you should take precautions against the norma creatures of the wild that you may cross paths with during the warmer months - ticks chiggers, mosquitoes, biting flies, snakes, etc.

Three Rivers, Pages 130 on 05/02/2010

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