By Diane Tipton, Montana FWP Statewide Information Officer
Shed crazy, shed seeker, shed junky—these are a few of the hundreds of colorful “handles” shed antler hunters use when chatting on the Internet with other self- proclaimed “shed fanatics” about their finds. This Internet-enabled aspect of shed antler hunting is a new twist on a popular spring outdoor activity.
Male deer, elk and moose grow antlers each year, some to a magnificent size, then they drop off to re-grow late winter and spring. Pronghorn antelope shed only their horn “shells” which are black, hollow fibrous sheaths.
Hunting for and collecting these shed antlers in spring has always been a popular activity for outdoorsmen, but it’s become “sport” or even a competition for some participants.
A national club for antler collectors, the North American Shed Hunters Club, was formed in 1991. Members attend annual events where collectors can boast about their finds and have them scored. Internet chat rooms make it possible for antler hunters to share their experiences, photos and videos with like-minded collectors everywhere. A query on shed antler hunting on YouTube turned up 1,280 video clips on the topic.
So who collects shed antlers and why?
“Many collectors are taxidermists that use the antlers in their work, artists, furniture makers and the like,” said Aaron Berg, FWP warden in FWP Region 2.
Money is also a factor for some. Nice matched sets or atypical antlers can be readily found on E-Bay or other Internet sites, or antlers are sometimes sold by the pound—which is lawful if they are legally obtained.
There are plenty of antler hunters who just appreciate nature, too.
“There are many who still enjoy the warm feeling of finding a nice antler, knowing the big bull that shed it is still out there somewhere walking around,” said Mark Schlepp, FWP Region 4 in Fairfield at Freezout Wildlife Management Area.
That brings us to opening day at some of Montana’s WMAs—a popular, some might even say raucous, event. WMA’s provide critical winter range for deer and elk and host all kinds of other wildlife species. Some of Montana’s famed elk herds shed their antlers on these sites.
On opening day of a WMA, wildlife managers are most concerned about protecting elk, deer, grizzly bears and other species from disturbance just when their energy reserves are most depleted. Shed hunters should carry bear spray and practice good bear avoidance techniques. Steer clear of deer and elk, as the females are heavily pregnant.
Last year on opening day at Madison/Wall Creek WMA, about 7,000 acres near Ennis, more than 70 vehicles lined up waiting for the gate to open at noon.
“Many people park their rig in line the day before and camp there like they would at a concert,” said Kevin Hughes, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 3 Wildlife Area Manager. “One guy parked his truck at the gate three days in advance so he could be first in line.”
In addition to WMAs, any other public land that offers good wintering range for wildlife offers shed antler hunting opportunities. FWP wildlife managers say hunters who search for antlers where they plan to hunt in the fall can gather valuable information about the age and size of the animals in the area and their movement patterns. If that location is on private land, remember to get landowner permission prior to making a trip.