Get ready for shed season
Article and photos by Jason Haley
Shed horns will be hitting the ground pretty soon. Maybe they already are where you live? Hunting for sheds has become quite the rage in recent years. What started out as a springtime hobby for antler lovers, and has probably always been around in some form, has become a craze that now requires state regulation in some places.
If you’re a hunter like me, you understand the strange attraction to horns that many of us have. They’re fun to hold, feel, examine, compare, wonder about and, most of all, talk about. Some folks like high horns, some wide, some heavy, some non-typical and many like the ones that score high. Besides the horn admiration/fascination factor and the pre-season scouting benefits, looking for sheds can be good springtime outdoor exercise. Your mind is busy so it doesn’t realize your body is tired while you pull hills and cross creeks. The entire family can get involved too.
I’ve never actively looked for them, but I used to stumble upon deer horns in the spring turkey woods or quail hunting in the oaks. I’d often wonder. Did it drop right here or did a coyote carry it here only to drop it for something better? Is this buck still alive or did he get taken by a hunter or a cougar or was he hit by a car? Maybe he’s in the shade watching me right now. Where is the other horn? It seems like the sun-bleached antlers often end up in pack rat nests.
My own shed horn interest peaked a few years ago after finding a beautiful matched set only four feet apart while deer hunting. I also saw a display at last year’s outdoor show in Medford that was remarkable. One collector had trophy blacktail sheds from Southern Oregon and he had over five season’s worth of matched sets from a single buck. It was a great study in age-class.
Now people have a new reason to collect sheds; they’re valuable. There are antler buyers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and exporters. Deer and elk sheds are normally sold by the pound, but unique or trophy antlers can garner much more at auction. People are training and breeding dogs, usually Labradors, to find and retrieve sheds. Over-exuberant shed hunters have harassed big game herds on their winter ranges, sometimes following them for days waiting for the second horn to drop or chasing them on quads causing antlers to drop prematurely. Some are selling horns to supplement their incomes. This has led states like Utah and Wyoming to regulate the activity. For example, in some cases collectors can’t enter the winter ranges until late spring and ethics courses are mandatory prior to searching. Shed hunting is unregulated in California and Oregon, so enjoy it for what it is and be sure to educate yourself on the legalities and ethical considerations before entering the field.
I found my prize set of sheds in Siskiyou County, but the buck undoubtedly summered in Jackson County, which is known for trophy blacktails. The horns now belong to a friend. He already had a nice shed collection and enjoys the hobby. He had also put me onto a great archery elk spot a few years earlier. This made the decision to part with them a bit easier.
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