The Hunt After The Hunt

by MDC Agent Michael Collins

The month of February is quickly passing by, but the feeling of cabin fever is not. If you can’t seem to break the feeling of cabin-fever, here is a suggestion. Try shed hunting! As the winter months are nearing their end, what better pastime than going out and finding the shed antlers of that trophy buck you watched all last year or even bucks that you may not have seen at all?

According to an article published in the Missouri Conservationist, “Holding a white-tailed deer antler is like touching a biological miracle.” A miracle in that, each summer, those antlers grow in a rush that is fueled by blood and enriched by minerals. As they reach the final stages of growth, these antlers harden into bone and become a source of dominance acquisition – an eons-old game that occurs every year during the “Rut.” Also a miracle in that nature recycles those nutrients and minerals as the antlers are shed. So, let’s take a closer look at this “miracle.”

Antler growth, in some deer, typically begins in April and normally only occurs in males. Growth occurs when the blood travelling through the soft layer of skin on top of a buck’s head contains a surplus of calcium, phosphorus and proteins. The base of the antler, located on the skull plate, enlarges and antlers begin to grow. During the growth period, the soft skin and short hair, which covers each antler, has a plush-like texture – hence the name “velvet.” Usually in August or September, the antlers have reached their full potential for the year. The blood vessels will stop delivering essential minerals and velvet coating will dry out and begin to peel. Bucks will begin to rub their antlers and the scent gland on their forehead on trees and shrubs in order to remove the velvet and marks their territory.  The bony core of the antler will harden once all of the velvet has been removed – but, of course, the bucks will continue to rub after it is removed. The antlers will be carried in this condition through the breeding-season. Typically, the exact timing when deer shed their antlers varies from deer to deer, and is somewhat determined by the weather as well as genetics, diet, and the deer’s health condition after the Rut. Timing could range from late mid-winter to early spring – which is the reason why it is a great time to start looking.

Before this discussion is wrapped-up, here are some strategies to consider. The best strategy to follow when shed hunting is a basic four-step process – first, go to an area where you know there are a lot of deer. Having spent a lot of time scouting and having developed knowledge of the area, this becomes an easy task. Find late season food sources, areas with water sources and bedding areas, and work around those. Secondly, find the trails that are being heavily used. Third, follow the trails to a fence crossing. The jarring from jumping the fence can cause the antler to wiggle free. Also, this can be true to follow these trails through heavy and densely wooded areas. The branches could snag and pull the antler out, if it is ready to fall out. Furthermore, walk around field edges and keep a sharp eye out. The final tidbit of advice may be the most important. Be persistent and patient. If you don’t find anything during your first attempt, don’t give up. This can require many hours of trekking through your hunting grounds to offer success. Besides getting a breath of fresh air, shed hunting can offer a great deal of fun and family bonding time.

As always, the Missouri Department of Conservation encourages you to hunt, fish, trap and enjoy the great outdoors. Missourians play a great role in driving the conservation of our wildlife resources through generations of outdoor tradition – now and for more to come. Be safe and good luck out there.

For further information, or questions, please visit, or contact Conservation Agent Michael Collins at (660) 216-1374.