For a lot of us, small game takes center stage this time of year, but with vacation time used up, Saturdays become the only day to get afield. If you want to spend all weekend in the woods, here’s how to do it…
As we turn the page on the new year, so do we turn our focus to new hunting opportunities. Snowshoe hare, fox, bobcat & red squirrel are my pursuits when the deer rifle gets tucked away until next season and coyote are always on my radar. However, unlike my home state of Pennsylvania, in Maine we cannot hunt any game or this elusive predator on Sunday.
So what’s an outdoorsman to do when the need to breathe that crisp, fresh air and find that very special solitude that only the Maine woods can provide?
I hunt horns. Literally.
Hunt (huhnt) : )
Antler shed hunting is a great way to spend a Sunday long after the tree stands have come down and the ground blinds have been packed away, waiting for the spring gobbler season. Everything we love about big game hunting applies equally to shed hunting. The preparation, scouting, tracking and hopefully, the harvest, are what makes a hunt. Not necessarily the quarry we seek.
Do your preparation and scouting on Saturday as you pursue small game, noting tracks, overlapping habitats and any areas of special interest. On Sunday, leave your gun in the cabinet and enjoy a slow walk in the woods, following tracks to your harvest.
An added bonus to hunting sheds is the ability to get family members not normally involved in hunting, a chance to spend time together, strengthen bonds and rediscover the wonders the Maine woods provide us.
The best time to hunt for antler sheds is after the rut, or mating season. Dwindling levels of testosterone cause the base of antlers, called the pedicel, to dissolve and eventually, the antler falls off. Deer and moose both need to recover after the exertion of the rut and conserve energy in the coming winter months. Shedding antlers allows much needed calcium to be absorbed by the recovering buck or bull, not travelling northward to keep feeding those racks. Typically, the key window for shed dropping is late November through January.
Bedding areas, along fence lines, edges of fields and funnels are all great spots to find sheds.
Where do you hunt for dropped sheds? The simple answer is to go where the deer and moose are.
If you’ve been out scouting and tracking all season, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where the travel corridors and feeding areas are. If you are not a big game hunter, fret not.
Simply identifying obstacles that can catch an antler as the animal moves through an area will get you started. Bedding areas, along fence lines, edges of fields and funnels are all great spots to find sheds. Look for antlers where deer or moose move into or out of a wood line; the branches of trees can pull at antlers, dislodging them. Fences and other obstacles that deer have to jump over can cause loose antlers to accede to gravity.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked locations to find sheds are in bedding areas. These spots are the hardest to find for non hunters and only slightly easier for the seasoned outdoorsman. They are secluded for a reason.
Bucks and bulls need to feel secure when they let their guard down, so bedding areas typically are well off the beaten path. Look for big blowdowns that provide concealment, especially on high ground.
As winter sets in and the snow begins to pile up, bedding areas will become easier to find. The depression made in the snow and the tracks leading in and out will be highly visible. Keep in mind that buck tracks are more square than doe tracks, with very pronounced dew claw imprints.
A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in it’s nose.
Hunting with a dog will vastly improve your shed harvest success rate. A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of a humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in it’s nose.
Having a hunting dog, or even a specific breed of dog, isn’t a requirement. You’ll train your dog just as you would train for fetching. For this reason, retrievers are the popular choice for shed hunting dogs. They are eager to please, love the exercise and by their very definition, are good retrievers. My yellow lab Chuck is currently in training and he loves it. Here are some training tips.
Start by tossing a shed or shed training dummy for your dog to bring back to you. Stay consistent in your commands such as, “Get the shed” or “Find the shed”. Whatever works for you will work for your dog if you stay consistent.
Next, move on to placing the shed in the yard so it’s visible to your dog. Give your commands and have your dog retrieve it. Make sure to praise and reward your dog for every successful retrieve.
The final step is placing the shed in a hidden location such as a wood line and having your dog hunt it up. Again, praise and reward are key components here. Your dog needs to understand that by finding and retrieving the antler shed, he’s doing what you are asking of him. That makes him happy.
A lot of professional dog trainers recommend using a soft antler shed dummy trainer. I do too. If you use a real shed in the beginning, there is a chance a tine may poke your dog and may cause him to become “shed shy”. It’s much better to start out using the trainer and introduce a real shed, if available, during the final training step. The kit we use is from Dog Bone Hunter and you can read more about it here.
Moose and whitetail antler sheds make great decorations…
Now that you’ve harvested your moose or whitetail sheds, what are you going to do with them? Undoubtedly, a pair of bull moose antler sheds are the top prize; surely you have a place ready for them over the garage door or in your camp!
Moose and whitetail antler sheds make great decorations, are often used in tooling and knife handle applications and rustic furniture design. Make a whitetail rack chandelier, dresser drawer or cabinet pulls, coat rack or accent pieces. The uses are as unlimited as your imagination.
If using antler sheds as decorative pieces just isn’t your style, there is also a lucrative market for fresh sheds. Typical rates for fresh sheds vary from $11 to $15 a pound. Websites such as mainemooseantlers.com and allagashguideservice.com both actively purchase sheds. Sporting publications like Northwoods Sporting Journal and The Maine Sportsman are also a good source for advertisers seeking to buy antler sheds.
So on the next Sunday that you are feeling the call of the outdoors or are looking for new ways to the enjoy the Maine woods, give antler shed hunting a try. No license is required and you can set your own pace.
With so many ways to hunt for sheds, it’s a sure fire way to keep you connected to nature when the pace of your hunting season slows, but your desire doesn’t.