Disappearing into hunting shed antlers and finding a surprise

Part of the joy of hunting shed antlers is disappearing in a still time of the year; some times, like Saturday, there are surprising finds.

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Antlers intact on a buck skeleton found while shed hunting.

Antlers intact on a buck skeleton found while shed hunting.

Dale Bowman

A deer trail angled off in the snow into a tallgrass prairie. I followed, turning off the wide deer highway — tracks packed in snow — I was rambling along.

I hoped the trail would lead to bedding areas and up my odds of finding shed antlers.

It did. Sorta.

For the second firearm deer season in early December, I drew a permit for a new site. Good get. I watched multiple deer along an edge fencerow, including three bucks, over the four days. One buck would’ve been one of a lifetime. I didn’t have a shot.

But I filed that away for winter, thinking I could ramble around the fencerow and bedding areas I had found in hopes of spotting shed antlers.

White-tailed deer (generally bucks) shed their antlers annually. In Illinois, the bell curve of shedding peaks in roughly mid-February.

Hunting sheds fits with what I most enjoy in the outdoors: Disappearing.

My two favorite rambles are polar opposites. In mid-summer, I disappear into prairies, usually Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Last year, I starting volunteering at a small prairie (highly rewarding). We do the work the steward has lined up, but she and I also note birds, insects and stages of various plants.

In late winter, usually in February, I ramble into the woods and surrounding edges to look for sheds. It’s an excuse look at and listen to wild things in the stillest time of year.

With the snow cover Saturday afternoon, I decided to go earlier than usual. As I expected, there were deer tracks like a highway along the bordering fencerow.

Many deer tracks line the edge of a fencerow and beanfield.  Credit: Dale Bowman

Many deer tracks line the edge of a fencerow and beanfield.

Dale Bowman

The fencerow had a remnant barbed wire fence. Anything that causes deer to jump and jar their antlers loose or catches the antlers is a focus point. I look hard around fences, ditches and streams, as well as low-hanging branches.

Any time a deer path cut through the fencerow, I checked extra hard. Nothing, so I disappeared into the cut paths beside the prairie and wooded sections, eventually following the deer path to the bedding area (also good spots to check).

Looking ahead to make sure I didn’t lose my way in the tallgrass prairie, I spotted a picked clean skeleton of a six-point buck, missing one leg.

Generally, I practice find-and-photograph shed hunting, but this stopped me. A dried skull and intact rack would improve my office. Then thought otherwise, in part because of a legal ambiguity, the area was a satellite of a State Fish and Wildlife Area, but technically not a FWA.

In Illinois, sheds may be collected on private land with permission. It’s prohibited at all forest preserves and park districts I know of. Dropped antlers offer a natural mineral block for critters to gnaw on.

In Illinois, shed hunting is prohibited at state parks, nature preserves and anywhere where specifically prohibited. It is allowed on Fish and Wildlife Areas, Conservation Areas, and Boat Access Areas, if open to the public.

So I kept walking the prairie and found the other leg. Shortly afterward, a cockbird pheasant crowed.

It was time.

But I rambled on, with a sense of satisfaction, until dark.

Fish of the year

I envy Indiana’s Fish of the Year program. The 2022 winners were announced last week. I love that 55 species were listed, including emerald shiner, blue tilapia and motttled sculpin. The list of winners is here.

Stray cast

Hearing Jimi Hendrix used in a car ad is like seeing a native brook trout swim a casting pond.

Rock and roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix performs on the Isle of Wight in England in 1970.

Rock and roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix performs on the Isle of Wight in England in 1970.


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