2020-2021 Youth Writing Contest Honorable Mention – Senior Category – Maine (Grades 9–12)
Give it a Try: Shed Hunting!
William Maines, 12th Grade, Gray-New Gloucester High School
From the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the rolling oak hills of the Midwest and the vast northern Maine woods, outdoorsmen hit the woods every spring, looking for shed antlers.
Shed hunting has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years, and it is easy to see why. The period when deer drop their antlers is between hunting seasons, giving hunters a perfect activity to keep occupied from late winter through early spring.
Anybody can participate, not much gear is needed, and the thrill of finding a beautiful antler is very rewarding. The sport is also an excellent way to get exercise and spend time outdoors, and even to practice woodsman skills, such as navigation.
If you are new to shed hunting, a basic knowledge of the antler-shedding process will help you find your first antler. All males in the Cervidae (deer) family (as well as female caribou) grow a set of antlers every summer. The antlers grow throughout the warm spring and summer months at a very fast pace, and stop growing when testosterone levels spike in the deer late in the year.
The antlers look soft and fuzzy when they are growing due to the layer of blood vessels, called velvet, but the velvet dries up and is rubbed off before the fall rut.
After the rut, a drop in testosterone causes the tissue around the pedicle (the base of the antler) to deteriorate, letting the antlers drop off.
Antlers are usually shed between January and March, but the exact time will differ depending on the age and condition of the deer.
Whitetail deer and moose antlers can be found here in Maine, but in other parts of North America, shed hunters pick up elk, mule deer, and even caribou antlers.
No matter what kind of antler you seek, it is important to know where to look. To begin, try to pinpoint areas that may have high deer densities, such as posted properties (after obtaining permission), wildlife sanctuaries, or known wintering areas. Low hunting pressure and good food and cover will attract more deer, increasing the odds of finding an antler.
In the woods, sign such as poop, tracks, and rubs can lead you to good areas where the deer have been bedding, feeding, or traveling.
Finally, find places where antlers might get knocked off, such as a fence or stream crossing that the deer have to jump.
If possible, wait until March or April to hit your hotspots. As long as there is not too much pressure from other shed hunters, waiting will ensure that you do not spook deer that still have antlers, and the sheds will show up better on the bare ground.
Using a dog can greatly improve the odds of finding sheds, and trainable breeds with good noses such as Labrador retrievers, pointers, or German shepherds are great choices.
Whether you’re a hardcore shed hunter making money at it or a beginner just trying it out, remember to take your time, be persistent, and have fun!