Collecting sheds extends deer hunting season

This just came in from Don Gasaway and the Williamson County Tourism Bureau....

"The warm winter sun reflects off an ivory spike sticking up out of the snow.  It is a shed, a deer antler dropped by a buck that nor longer has use for it.  Nature's way of telling the buck that the mating season was over and it is time to concentrate on making it though the winter.

Perhaps shed collecting began as an off shoot of post season scouting.  Now it has become a serious hobby.  With substantial deer herds and thousands of acres of forest, Williamson County and southern Illinois are great locations for the family to hunt sheds.

Deer grow their antlers beginning within a day or two after they shed the previous year's growth.  Spurred by the growth hormone released from the endocrine system, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are leached from the bones and deposited as salts on the antler pedicel by a network of blood vessels beneath the skin.  The skin that covered the pedicel and is now growing rapidly over the newly forming antler is called velvet.

The velvet is supplied with 12 blood vessels carrying blood to the antlers and a like number back to the body.  Some more blood courses up through the center of the antler causing the antlers to have an internal body temperature.  Antler growth is one of the fastest known forms of tissue growth.  The antler will grow as much as 1/4 inch per day.  This process takes a toll on the deer, draining it of much of its minerals.  He will eat the surrounding vegetation and if the soil minerals have been depleted, his antler growth will be less.  He needs those minerals to grow big antlers.

Beginning with June 21st, the longest daylight of the year, the lessening daylight triggers the pineal gland and the endocrine system.  A tremendous surge of testosterone causes the antlers to solidify from the base toward the tip.  This hardening continues until just before the antlers are cast off in the early part of the next year.

The exact date when a whitetail buck will shed his anglers varies a lot from deer to deer and from one location to another.  Generally speaking, deer lose their antlers sometime in February but some bucks will keep them until late into spring.

In order to be successful at finding shed antlers, look in areas where deer spend a lot of time during the late winter months.  Wait until the snow has melted before hitting the woods.  It does not take much snow to cover completely an antler.

Cast antlers are not easy to see in the woods.  Most of the time, unless one is looking right at it, an antler is difficult to find.  Collectors report standing in a particular area scouring it for antlers, when all at once one appears.  It might even be in an area that had been surveyed hard and not an antler seen.  As a rule of thumb limit the search to about a 15 to 20 foot radius.

Bedding areas are a good place to locate sheds.  It is because bucks spend so much of their winter time in bedding areas.  By staying there, they are able to get by with up to 30 percent less food.  They need to rest and feed to replenish fat stores.  Winter feeding areas cause deer to congregate.  South facing slopes are good place in hilly areas.  They get less snow and more sunlight.  The first grasses of spring and the warmth on the colder days are greater on south slopes.

In more open country, fence crossings are a good place to check for sheds.  Because of the way a deer's knees work, they land with their knees locked.  If they are jumping a fence on hard frozen ground, the shock is often enough to jolt off one or both antlers.

Shed collecting gives you a preview of what can be found next fall in your favorite hunting area.  The buck that dropped those sheds has survived the hunting season.

Free information regarding motel accommodations and points of interest is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99.  Information is also available online at: visitsi.com, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website.  The e-mail address is: sjohnson@visitsi.com. "

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