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While out in the woods, most hunters will pick up an antler shed and carry it back to their vehicle, claiming the prize that is only second in taking a deer or an elk while hunting.
A friend of mine, Tony Wintrip, spends some of his spare time looking for what most hunters hope to find: antlers. Over the past few years, he has added over 200 antlers to his collection. Recently, I had an opportunity to spend some time with Wintrip to learn some of his secrets, and will share them with you.
The prime time for searching for deer antlers will start in January. But he cautions not to be too eager to leave human scent in the area. If the deer has not dropped his rack yet, you could drive him out of the area and not find that fresh set of antlers. He also said you could realistically hunt for them year round. But conditions will be more favorable during the winter with no leaves on the trees, plus the grass will be down. After April, the grass starts to grow making it harder to locate the dropped antlers. Of course, if there is snow to contend with, it will make hunting more difficult.
Wintrip has found deer and elk antlers in several western states and has found them in Lewis, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, Klickitat, Skamania and Cowlitz counties in our state of Washington. He adds that all states and counties where he has been lucky finding antlers have both deer and elk.
Here are a few tips that Wintrip shared with me. Again, for deer it will be January when they start to loose their antlers, and for elk it will be at the end of March.
- During rainy weather, the animals tend to shake to rid themselves of the wet rain, shaking their head as well and sometimes dropping the antlers where they stand. Check fence lines where a deer trail crosses. When the bucks jump a fence, the jolt of landing on the other side just might be enough to jar an antler loose. They will jump the fence twice a day.
- While shed hunting, look for new and old rub marks plus bedding areas. Deer and elk will rub their antlers again when irritations starts with the new growth. The old rub marks will be a key place to look because you know a buck or bull elk has been here in the past. Often, Wintrip has found them in the middle of a trail, a road, a field or even in a stream.
- One of his favorite places to start looking will be in a luscious green farmer’s field. During the daytime he will glass from the edge looking for the white tips sticking up. He’ll also glass just before dusk watching the size of bucks coming in to feed.
- Clear-cuts and slides that have been replanted are good producers as well. He will walk the edges looking for fresh tracks, and trails with the most tracks. He has found many antlers at bottom of slides. Deer and elk sometimes will jump from one spot to another, jarring an antler loose. A trail through a slide might be the only way an animal can get across because of the steep terrain.
- Single antlers are most common to find. Most people will move on after finding one antler and not spend time looking for the other. He states they are happy just to find one. Tony will often find the other matching antler just five yards from the first one. Sometimes it will be as far as 100 yards, he said.
- Fresh dropped antlers, blending in with leaves and sticks lying on the ground are harder to see because they have not lost any color. Antlers lying in the open will bleach out and are easier to spot. Antlers under heavy timber or reprod that don’t get much sunlight will get a little green tint from dampness making them a little easier to see. But you will still have to slow yourself down and look for points sticking upwards or discoloration in the area you are in. Finding sheds on rainy days is a little easier because of the way the antler shines when it is wet. Wintrip said to look on south facing slopes. It provides sunlight and the least amount of wind during the winter months.
- Food gets harder to find during the winter months, causing the animals to seek out the easiest route to and from a food source. They will avoid downed trees and big logs lying in the trail. With no hunting pressure, the animals will not need to go out of their way to keep hidden. With colder temperatures and less sunlight in the winter, they need to eat more food to replenish the calories they use up. Wintrip said there is a good reason that shed hunters will find antlers in the same area year after year.
One year Wintrip decided to cross the Lockhsa River in Idaho while elk hunting and look for antlers. While slowly crisscrossing a medium-sized plateau he came across a nice antler shed from a good size elk. He decided to go back the next morning to hunt the area. It wasn’t long before it paid off as a nice bull elk appeared. His hunting trip ended on the first morning on the first day of the hunt.
There are some of the perks you’ll receive, too. You will familiarize yourself in an area you might want to hunt during the next season, and learn the conundrums of the deer and elk. In addition, you’ll see animals you enjoy seeing and the exercise. There is a monetary value for those who seek it, but the last and most important value is finding those treasures that you went out looking for.
As a note: It is legal to pick up natural sheds from deer and elk but if you find a skull with antlers attached, it is not legal to take them out, but many hunters do. Sheep and goats horns are illegal to bring out whether attached to a skull or not, unless you have a current tag for the animal, but you will need to punch the tag.