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Hunting shed antlers: Mostly the joy, but also the legality and the ethics

Shed antlers can be small things, but bring joy in a slower time of the outdoors year.
Credit: Dale Bowman

A deer trail angled off a dirt road, cutting faintly through soggy brown leaves. The trail crossed an intermittent ditch filled with water, then through a brush break to a cornfield.

I looked at it Friday while hunting shed antlers and thought, ‘‘There’s the spot.’’ The bucks will jump the ditch, jar their antlers loose, then catch them on brush while lowering their heads to go out into the corn stubble.

I don’t know about you, but the number of times I figure something out in the outdoors and it turns out exactly right is, well, almost never.

This time was different.

Channeling my inner buck, I jumped the ditch, then ducked low to clear the brush. To my left was one side of a buck’s antlers in the leaves matted on the field edge.

The joy of a found shed antler.
Credit: Dale Bowman

White-tailed bucks drop their antlers annually, generally in winter. The bell curve of dropping peaks in late February. Late February and early March are prime times for hunting sheds.

Shed hunting is a way to scout deer and to get out at an awkward time of the year in the outdoors.

I’m not good at shed hunting, but I am good at picking the brains of people who are good at things in the outdoors.

When it comes to shed hunting, I picked up some knowledge from reading. But I learned more from hunting with Larry Narro, then with Jeff Norris.

From them, I learned to look at places where deer have to jump, herding spots, bedding areas and the edges where deer haunt.

Before I got too cocky, reality set in. I could not find the other side of the antlers or see any bucks sneaking around with one side of their antlers.

The legal question on hunting sheds varies. I don’t know of any nearby park district or forest-preserve district where it is permitted to keep sheds.

The deal on state lands is divided. Ed Cross, the communications director for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, sent this assessment:

‘‘Based upon past DNR legal opinions and state law (20 ILCS 835/6), shed deer antlers are an ‘inanimate natural object’ and may not be collected from any State Park. Similarly, the Natural Areas Preservation Act (525 ILCS 30/23) prohibits the removal of any object (including shed antlers) from any Dedicated Nature Preserve or buffer areas. The public may, however, collect shed antlers from all other lands managed by the IDNR, including Fish & Wildlife Areas, Conservation Areas, Recreation Areas and Boat Access Areas, provided the area is otherwise open to the public.’’

There’s also an ethical question. Prime time for shed hunting is a sloppy time. That’s fine if you’re milling around a field or old road, but it’s not so fine if you’re in an area with sensitive plants susceptible to erosion.

But search on. Eyes sharp, mind sharper.

Wild things

The Chicago Audubon Society’s Birding America is Saturday at North Park University. The International Crane Foundation’s George Archibald will deliver the keynote at 9 a.m., but there are a host of noted presenters. It’s $50. More is at chicagoaudubon.org.

Stray cast

Thinking about Loyola’s Alfredrick Hughes on Sunday is like the old guys remembering catching herring at the North Avenue pier.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.