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Searching for cast deer antlers is a fun way to spend time outdoors in the winter.
Rob Schroeder is training his black lab puppy, Millie, to help him find shed deer antlers. Dogs can be ideal shed hunters because they cover lots of miles ith their noses and eyes closes to the ground.
Wrapping chicken wire around two trees, then sweetening the area with corn, is an inexpensive way to build a contraption to knock loose antlers off a buck's head.
Alfie Hammerstrom of Roanoke found this nice shed antler in early February the old-fashioned way, while hiking through the woods and keeping his eyes on the ground.
Making a teepee using a tree and bungee cords is one way to construct a trap to knock loose antlers off bucks' heads in the winter.
Friday, February 8, 2013
As he walked slowly through a section of Roanoke County woods this week, Alfie Hammerstrom scanned the ground as he moved.
“I saw something white out of the corner of my eye,” Hammerstrom said. “I thought, ‘That’s not a stick.’ ”
Hammerstrom had spotted a white-tailed deer’s recently shed antler, partially covered by leaves and mud.
The antler carried four points, including tall, bladed brow tines. It not only gave the hunter hope about encountering that buck during next fall’s hunting season, when the deer will be an even better trophy, but the antler is something of a unique trophy itself.
Many shed antlers are found by accident, by hikers, bikers, birders and just kids out playing in their favorite woods.
But every winter plenty of dedicated shed hunters head afield intent on finding the cast-off bony treasures.
Again, locating sheds serves a practical purpose, helping hunters take inventory of the deer that made it through this past fall’s hunting season and which deer, if all goes well, will be out there in the woods this coming fall.
But infrared trail cameras do the same thing, and even better, so shed hunting’s real benefits are the enjoyment of getting outdoors and the excitement of finding nice antlers.
When and where
A white-tail buck’s testosterone levels wane after the fall breeding season, or rut.
As the testosterone drops, osteclast cells become active and eat away at the bone at the base of the antler. Once it starts it happens quickly, with it taking just a couple of weeks to go from solidly attached to a deer’s head to lying on the ground.
In the North, white-tail bucks can start shedding in mid-December and most shed their antlers by the end of January.
In the South, shedding usually starts well after New Year’s and can run into late spring.
In Virginia, a few bucks will start dropping their antlers prior to the first of the year, but that is the exception.
February is usually the peak shedding month, though some bucks will carry antlers through March.
Scouting cameras can help a hunter decide the best time to start hunting sheds in earnest. As soon as antlered bucks become notably rare on camera pictures, that’s a good indication that antlers are dropping.
The key to finding sheds is to focus on areas where bucks are spending most of their time.
Concentrated food sources are a good place to start.
Hunters who have designated wildlife food plots have an advantage. Those plots, as well as the busy travel routes between those feeding areas and bedding areas, are prime shed-hunting areas.
South facing slopes are also good areas on which to focus. Those slopes not only face the sun but also block chilly prevailing winter winds.
Areas where deer jump fences or ditches can be good because the landing can jar loose the sheds.
Some shed fanatics try to make special traps to help,
The traps use bait, with various obstacles in place to knock off loose antlers.
Many deer hunters are putting trail cameras out over corn this time of year anyway to get shots of deer that made it through the season, so there’s little harm in trying a shed trap.
Most hunters make their own shed traps using inexpensive supplies such as chicken wire or bungee cords.
Commercial shed traps also are available. The $289 Rack Trap, for example, uses a feed/bait bowl that a deer can reach only by putting its muzzle through bungee cords.
A critical key for any antler trap is to avoid using a system that could endanger deer through potential entanglement. That’s why flexible bungee cords and chicken wire are often preferred.
YouTube has a number of how-to videos for making rack traps. Hunting-related Internet sites also feature information.
The traps are not a sure thing.
On one hunting-related Internet message board, a hunter who posted pictures of his homemade antler trap dejectedly said he’d been using the trap for three years and hadn’t recovered a single antler.
So, while making a shed trap can be fun and interesting, it can’t replace the best approach to finding sheds, which is to cover a lot of ground on foot in the winter.
Some shed hunters have taken that approach to the next level, and employ dogs to help them find sheds.
Dogs are excellent shed hunters because they are tireless hunters who cover many more miles than their handlers, all the while keeping their noses and eyes on the ground.
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