On the Hunt for Antler Sheds
close to food, water, and shelter. That’s where antlers drop.
Sometimes a particular spot will produce shed antler finds year after year. Usually that’s because a deer herd beds down in the area consistently, he says.
If one antler is found, look carefully in the surrounding area for the other antler. There’s no guarantee it’s there, but Crawford says losing one antler will sometimes make a buck feel out of balance and they will rub against something nearby, trying to lose the other one.
A practiced eye helps. Crawford lets his gaze wander across fields in an almost out-of-focus manner, until an unusual shape prompts him to focus. A shed hunter can search more ground with eyes than with feet.
“I’m not looking for an antler,” he says. “I look for four or five inches in a straight line, and I’m looking for a white line.”
A group of family or friends has better odds because they have more people searching more prime areas.
Most veteran shed hunters wear a backpack to carry found antlers. A helpful hint is to lash the antlers to the outside of the pack, so they don’t poke you in the back during a long hike.
The more knowledgeable a shed hunter is about white-tailed deer habits and signs of their activity in the field, the more successful they will be at finding shed antlers. That’s one reason, besides companionship, that Crawford likes to take his sons.
“They’re learning about deer habits and habitat when we do this, things like where to find good bedding places for deer,” he says. “And you can’t scare off an antler, which makes hunting them a really good activity for kids.”
Public lands, such as Department conservation areas, are excellent places to look for shed antlers. Dykes often searches at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area in Blue Springs, and on Jackson County park lands, which also have healthy deer populations. Urban wildlands are just as likely to hold shed antlers as rural areas.
Getting permission to hunt shed antlers on private property can often be obtained by asking permission from landowners. Always be courteous and never enter private property without permission.
No permit is needed to find or possess shed antlers, Crawford says, as long as they are not attached to a skull. Sometimes hunters find antlers attached to a skull where a deer has died in the field. Those finds can be kept but only if the local conservation agent is contacted and issues a possession permit. Some people mount a matched pair of antlers together on a trophy board. Others use them to decorate tables or gun cabinets. Dykes and his sons add their finds to an ever-growing ball of antlers.
Another bonus of antler shed hunts is that the openness of winter’s woods and meadows makes it easier to spot wildlife. Crawford and his sons stop to examine a raccoon skull. Later, they top a hill and notice a large flock of wild turkeys in the distance. They see a coyote slinking through a brush patch. Best of all, they watch more than a dozen deer trotting over a distant rise.
“The number one thing in finding shed antlers is covering ground,” Crawford says. “You’ve got to put in the miles to find the tines.”