In our natural world, nothing is more mysterious and awe-inspiring than deer antlers.

In Minnesota, whitetail deer antlers grow for about 120 days, from March through August when they are covered in velvet and full of blood.  Then they stop growing and harden to the bony structures we call antlers. Deer will spend a few weeks rubbing their antlers to remove all traces of the velvet. The antlers stay with the buck until late winter and then are cast off or ‘dropped’.

That’s where shed antler hunting comes in. Antler enthusiasts will walk field edges, swamps and woods in search of a treasured antler. The holy grail of antler hunting is finding a matched pair, or both sides of the antlers from one deer.

Shed antler hunting has become a popular pastime for both hunters and non-hunters alike. You don’t have to be a deer hunter to appreciate a whitetail deer shed.

Shed antlers drop at random and can be found anywhere deer travel. Deer bedding areas are prime locations because of the length of time deer are in one spot increases the odds the antlers will fall while they are there. Trails between bedding areas and food sources are also high-probability areas.

Shed antler hunters don’t need a license nor do they have to report what they find. However, if a shed hunter happens across a carcass with the antlers still attached to the skull, they need to contact the local conservation officer and request a possession tag.

Most State, county and Federal lands are not regulated, however in Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas shed antler gathering is not permitted. These areas are clearly marked with signs.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities to walk for sheds on wildlife management and state forest areas, county lands and private property. You’ll need permission to look for sheds on private property to avoid trespassing.

Most people collect sheds for fun, but there is a way to keep track of the size of sheds found using a scoring system based on the Boone and Crockett method. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association keeps a database online, and the North American Shed Hunters Club keeps track of shed antler records for all of North America.

The use of retrieving dogs trained to located shed antlers has become a popular way for pet owners to run there dogs year-round. The North American Shed Hunting Dog Association holds shed-dog competitions throughout the country.

Shed hunting is a great excuse to get outdoors!

PHOTO: James Gerchy

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