Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s a stretch of February and March that seems to be the slowest days on the entire calendar to tick by each year. I think it’s tied to the fact that most of my favorite hunting seasons are in the rear view mirror, while trout and Spring turkey are still several weeks ahead in the future. If you’re an outdoor-oriented person, you’ve probably already started some of the same activities I traditionally indulge in this time of year to pass the days. Things like reorganizing your tackle box and purchasing hooks, lures, and other gear for upcoming fishing excursions; starting to practice with your favorite box, slate, or diaphragm turkey calls; and watching a wide array of outdoor videos on YouTube while cranking out the miles on your treadmill. It does help now that the recent time change has given us an extra hour of daylight to enjoy and the astronomical first day of Spring officially arrives on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 5:58 PM (Eastern Daylight Time). The start of Spring and the increased daylight should help lift everyone’s spirits, but if you’re still looking for things to do outdoors before trout and turkey seasons arrive, allow me to make a suggestion you may not have considered up to this point.
This is an excellent time of year to try shed hunting. For those individuals who are not familiar with the term, I’m not talking about looking for the small wooden structures people put in their backyards to store their lawn & garden tools and equipment, but rather searching diligently out in the woods and throughout fields to find the antlers whitetail bucks drop or “shed” early in the year, so they can begin the annual process of regrowing a new set later this Spring. While I’ve seen some whitetails still sporting their prior-year racks up into April in the past, the vast majority will have shed their antlers by now. With the snow gone and while the vegetation has not yet started to “green up”, March is an ideal time to shed hunt. Many folks have never found a shed antler in their entire lives, let alone a matched pair, because antlers typically don’t last long out in the woods. A wide array of rodents (mice, chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, etc.) and porcupines relish deer antlers as a ready source of minerals. Surprisingly, researchers have found even foxes, coyotes, and bears will chew on deer antlers, which are full of calcium, phosphorus, and other mineral salts. That is why many shed antlers you do find often have the tips of the points already gnawed off or they’ll have clearly visible chew marks at the base or on the beam.
Shed hunting is something the entire family can participate in, so take the kids with their sharp young eyes and even your dog, since more and more dogs are being trained to find shed antlers with their keen sense of smell. Whitetail antlers come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, with some appearing almost bone white, while others are a darker brown; so, your eyes have to look closely amongst the dead leaves, downed weeds, scattered branches, and agricultural stubble to find cast off antlers. You’ll want to primarily look where deer spent most of their time this past Winter, which includes bedding areas, prime feeding locations, and the travel corridors they use between where they feed and where they bed down. Finding shed antlers is like looking for the proverbial “needle in a haystack”, but focusing your efforts where bucks spend most of their time will significantly increase your odds of finding them. If you find one antler, look diligently in the immediate surrounding area, because bucks frequently drop their antlers concurrently or in rapid succession when the time comes to discard their headgear. If you want to “up-the-ante”, consider making the trip up to PA elk country to try your hand at searching for highly prized elk sheds on public land. Often weighing more than 15 lbs. apiece and spanning over 4-feet in length, elk antlers make quite a trophy for their fortunate finder. Sheds, whether deer or elk, make great conversation pieces and hunting for discarded antlers will help you shed any stuck indoors malaise this Spring! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019