The firearms deer season is over now and the archery season will end on the 15th, but you still may be able to bring home part of a deer for the next few months. From late December through mid-February is prime time for Missouri bucks to shed their antlers. I’ve had several reports from muzzleloader hunters of bucks that had already shed their antlers by the last week of December. If not picked up by someone, the shed antlers or “sheds” will be on the ground until they are gradually consumed for their minerals and protein by rodents or rabbits. Some will still be around in good shape when morel hunting and spring turkey hunting occur in April.
I have found a number of sheds over the years, and it’s always a thrill for me. To hold that bony sculpture that for months rode atop a buck is a tangible connection to the wild outdoors. Most of my finds are from late-season quail or pheasant hunts, but I’ve occasionally found them later in the spring when out for other activities. I have not had much luck when I’ve gone out for the sole purpose of hunting for sheds, probably because I don’t spend enough hours at it. I know there are more dedicated, and successful, shed hunters than I. Some say that areas where deer will jump a fence or other barrier are good places to find sheds. Folks who put out feed for deer will sometimes place the food near overhead obstacles in hopes of dislodging a loose antler.
A decrease in testosterone following the mating season, or rut, is the trigger that causes a layer of cells at the base of the deer’s antlers to begin reabsorbing calcium. Once that layer of cells deteriorates, the weight of the antlers will cause them to drop off. The deer’s health and nourishment is also a factor, with healthy, well-fed bucks holding their antlers longer. It is typical for the two antlers to drop at different times but occasionally a matching pair is found at a single location.
Antlers have varied uses, from home décor to knife handles to novelty items. Deer hunters may use a pair of sheds to rattle up a buck when hunting. Mine just hang in my garage where I can admire them and try to remember where I found each one.
The possibility of finding shed deer antlers is just one more reason to explore outdoor Missouri this winter. Sheds can be hunted and legally possessed with no permit required.