Collecting shed antlers has become more than a pastime while walking in the woods. For the hunter/naturalist it is a chance to learn about the deer and their habits. For southern Illinois nature lovers and hunters, shed collecting is becoming a popular winter sport.
Deer grow their antlers beginning within a day or two after they shed the previous year’s growth. The growth hormone released from the endocrine system causes calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to leach from the bones of the buck. They become salts on the antler pedicel by a network of blood vessels beneath the skin. The skin that covered the pedicel grows rapidly over the newly forming antler is called velvet.
The velvet contains 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 grows as much as 1/4 inch per day.
The process takes a terrible toll on the deer, draining it of much of his minerals. He will eat the surrounding vegetation and if the soil minerals in the area are depleted, his antler growth will be less. He needs the minerals to grow big antlers.
Beginning with June 21st, the longest daylight of the year, the lessening daylight triggers the pineal gland, the endocrine system, and the testicles of the buck. As the testicles enlarge they produce a tremendous surge of testosterone that causes the antlers to solidify from the base toward the tip. This hardening continues until just before he casts off the antlers.
One interesting factor in this process is if an antler is injured it will often grow in a "non‑typical" shape. Even after shedding, the next year's antler and all future antlers are likely to develop in that same pattern.
The exact date when a whitetail buck will shed his anglers varies a lot from deer to deer and from one location to another. The time usually relates to the drop in testosterone levels after the rut is well over. The drop in testosterone level in turn relates to the length of daylight and darkness.
Usually, the bigger bucks drop their antlers first which has given birth to the theory that more sexually active deer tend to shed first.
Deer lose their antlers sometime in late January or early February. However some bucks will keep them until late into spring.
In order to be successful at finding shed antlers, one must look in areas where deer spend a lot of time during the late winter months. It helps to question locals about the sighting of large numbers of deer during the winter months. Once the numbers deer in the area is established, wait until the snow melts before hitting the woods. It does not take much snow to cover 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 for a long time scouring the area for an antler, when all at once one appears. It might even be in an area earlier surveyed hard and not an antler seen. As a rule of thumb limit the search to about 15 to 20 degrees radius.
Bedding areas are a good place to locate sheds. It is because bucks spend so much of their winter time there. By staying there, they are able to get by with up to 30 percent less food.
Other good areas for sheds are the trails leading to feeding areas or right in the feeding area. After the rut the bucks are tired and hungry. They do not eat much during the rut. The physical demands of the rut weaken them severely. Bucks need to rest and feed to replenish their fat stores.
Haystacks or other winter feeding areas cause deer to congregate. If the area is in a thicket, or near one, the fact that the thicket will cut the wind makes such areas attractive.
South slopes are good locations in hilly areas. Southern slopes 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 of both antlers.
One of the less common areas, yet a good one for shed collectors, is a wide open field. Deer are attracted to the area under cover of darkness. Not only are antlers easier to spot there, chances of rodent damage to the antler is less.
Finding shed antlers is by no means as easy as it sounds. Somehow those antlers just seem to disappear once the bucks drop them. Rodents use them as a source of calcium and as a result many are chewed quite a bit.
Collecting sheds can be fun. Perhaps the most fun is in the search. It is a great time for post season scouting. It gives you a preview of what lives in your favorite hunting area. Bucks that drop those sheds have survived the hunting season.
Free information regarding motel accommodations and points of interest is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, IL 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99. Information is also available on line at visitsi.com, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.