Go West, Young Man!

Haven’t given up on hunting headgear just yet? The whitetails are done shedding their cranial weight, but the elk are just getting started!

Shed antler hunting has exploded like a one-gallon milk jug being hit with a Hornady GMX bullet at more than 2,500 feet per second. Many Midwesterners are finished shed antler hunting for the year. Why not? Turkey season is just around the corner.

Nevertheless, Westerners are just getting wound-up in many locales. Why? Elk are just beginning to drop their headgear, and in some areas shed antler hunting seasons actually dictate when you can—and cannot—hunt for shed antlers.

If you’re still on the hunt for antlers (I am when schedule allows), you might want to use some of the sage advice below to increase your bone pile.

Wrong Zip Code
You simply might be looking in an area with an overall low density of deer or elk. Ungulates of all flavors flock to areas that provide winter refuge, feed and safety. You need to scout for the highest density of wintering animals and study their patterns. Invade the area when you feel as if the majority of antlers have dropped and the stress won’t harm the animals. The core area where the animals spend the bulk of their time is best, but don’t forget to walk the fringes and rough country. These side habitat zones are always good for an extra antler.

Rodent Invasion
Squirrels and other bone-gnawing rodents pose a true threat to the existence of shed antlers, big or small. If you live in a zone where there are more furry “original” tree huggers than trees, you might be fighting a losing battle. Squirrels gnaw and literally eat antlers for the minerals imbedded in the bone. I’ve found everything from fresh whitetail to elk antlers attacked and disfigured by the fluffy bone grinders. To get a jump on the squirrels, go early—but be careful to follow laws and again, don’t stress wintering game by pushing them out of great winter refuge.

Dogs Of A Different Color
Like squirrels, coyotes also gnaw on antlers, but unlike squirrels, they pick them up and move them to different locations to chomp away. A friend of mine shared a story about his friends putting antlers in front of trail cameras: Nearly every camera captured coyotes stealing the antlers and none of the antlers were found again during later, successive shed outings. I always check antlers for teeth marks and discover that most have marks indicating coyotes have carried, or chewed on them. In some zones nearly every elk antler I find has had a point chewed down by a bored coyote.

Be The Early Bird
This is getting more and more common. Shed antler hunters are going earlier and earlier, so they gather more antlers and thusly clean the woods out earlier. Poaching in whitetail country is also a big issue as unscrupulous shed hunters sneak onto property and scoop up the antlers before you even have put up your deer rifle for the season. Use your trail cameras to help patrol when you can’t be in the woods.

Thick cover, early farming practices, other eager hunters and the old adage of looking for a needle in a haystack also come to mind for those of you afflicted with antlerless days. Don’t fret. I have my share of less-than-heavy backpack days, but remember: Any day in the outdoors is better than a day in the office.

That reminds me … see you later!


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