The second season-hunting shed antlers.
I was just about to finish my work and head home when my co-worker Adam called and said, "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Giant 8 is still alive! The bad news is I'm holding his shed."
Like Adam, I was both happy and sad. Adam had found Giant 8's shed very near the food plot we thought he was using. Although disappointed Giant 8 shed early, I was happy Adam found his shed.
I really enjoy antlers. Clearly, I'm not alone. Drawings of critters with antlers were were probably the most common art created by prehistoric man on cave walls. And even today, it's very odd to see an advertisement, logo or magazine cover in the hunting business that isn't focused on antlers. I believe this is so because antlers are so unique (no two are exactly alike) and hard to come by.
Antlers are one of the fastest-growing structures in the animal kingdom. I won't bore you with a lot of the chemistry about antler growth. Bucks grow and shed antlers annually. Antler growth begins during the spring from the pedicle, which is the growing portion of an antler that is permanently attached to the buck's skull. Antlers grow through the summer until about August/September. Once antlers stop growing, they change in composition from about 80 percent protein and 20 percent calcium and phosphorous to about 60 percent calcium and phosphorous and 40 percent protein. This hardening process occurs as blood ceases to flow to the growing antlers.
Depending on location, animal health and quality of available food, bucks will carry both antlers into late winter. Injured bucks often shed their antlers early. I suspect Giant 8 had been injured--though nothing was obvious in post-shed trail camera photos.
The process of bucks shedding their antlers occurs much faster than growing them. Near the end of the breeding season, hormone levels (mainly testosterone) drop substantially. That begins a process of a tissue layer degenerating between the buck's pedicle and his antlers. The shedding process can literally happen in less than a day. That's why folks who raise deer talk about seeing two mature bucks fighting during the late breeding season and the loser then shedding his antlers the next day! The loser's testosterone level probably decreased significantly and resulted in' him shedding his antlers. In most cases, shedding antlers has nothing to do with the tremendous amount of pressure placed on antlers by fighting.
Likewise, it is simply coincidence when bucks shed due to jumping a fence. I've known folks who believe walking fences is the best way to find sheds. This simply isn't true. Once Lucks are chemically ready to shed, their antlers could fall off anywhere, including while the buck is bedded.
Remember, a chemical process dissolves a special type of tissue between a buck's pedicle and his antlers that results in the normal shedding process. Certainly a buck could shed a few hours (probably at the most) sooner if it happened to jump a fence during the time when the hormones are rapidly changing. Likewise, sometimes an antler comes off in a hunter's hand during the late season when he starts to drag the buck. This again is simply a coincidence of timing (unless the buck had an injury to his skull).
I've built antler traps before with huge hopes of collecting sheds the easy way! I've fashioned "Vs" out of webbed wire. I place corn deep in the "V," thinking that as bucks nuzzle into the tight "V" trying to get corn, they would pull the slowly weakening antlers off their heads. I've yet to find one shed in an antler trap!
My wife Tracy and her Labrador retriever Crystal are very good at finding shed antlers. Last year, they found almost 30 antlers. I found three. You want to know Tracy and Crystal's secret? They work feeding areas (food plots), bedding areas and transition zones. Simply stated, they search areas with fresh deer sign. Deer normally shed their antlers while simply going about their daily activities. During the late winter, deer spend a lot of time in or near feeding and bedding areas. Since that's where they spend the most time, that's the most likely place they will shed their antlers.
Antlers always have attracted me, and I'm sure they always will. Even more than enjoying these wonders of creation, knowing where bucks shed gives me great information about stand placement for the upcoming late season! Rather than spend your time walking fence lines or trying other shed-hunting shortcuts, go out and spend time where deer are feeding and bedding during the late season. This will help you find some sheds this year and antlers attached to a buck next year.
BY DR. GRANT WOODS