The spring is a slow time for big game hunters. Unless they are out hunting waterfowl, odds are they are stuck at home checking their trail cams waiting for fall. Once the air gets warmer and it starts to stay light later, it’s time to get back in the woods … to go shed hunting!
Sheds are antlers that ungulates drop, or “shed,” every year from January to April to make room for new growth. Deer, elk, moose, and other hoofed, antlered, animals grow new, unique antlers every year. It’s the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom and truly an incredible process!
Once the antler falls off, by a drop in testosterone that triggers osteoclasts at the base of the antler (pedicle), it is left behind for the lucky shed hunter. But before you go out ready to find a pile of beautiful, gleaming antler sheds, there are a few things you should know.
Where to Go
The best places to find shed antlers are those with healthy herds. More deer, means more antlers being shed. A good way to find out where there’s a large population of deer, elk, or moose is to stay on top of the annual surveys of your state’s department of wildlife. Because we are in Nevada, we make sure to read the big game surveys conducted by the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) each year. The annual tag limits coincide with hunting units across the state, so in the spring we make sure to check out the units with the most tags for the upcoming hunting season. There are bound to be some good sheds in these areas!
Shed hunting is also a good way to start prepping and scouting the unit you will hunt in the fall. You can find out a lot about the big game you will be chasing by the antlers they leave behind. Each antler is unique to the animal, which means you can speculate their size, health, and development from the shed you find.
Another good place to look is where deer or elk spend the most time in the winter/early spring. This means looking for bedding areas and ideal food sources. Ungulates love new growth so looking for sheds in burn scars where new vegetation is popping up is a good idea. By marking where the herds are moving to and from, you can also be more prepared to hunt in the fall.
Shed hunting has gotten much more popular in recent years. This is because antlers can be used to make a lot of different things like chandeliers and lampstands, chair and table legs, really any kind of decoration. Antler sheds can also be used as dog bones which pet owners will pay good money for!
The monetary value of sheds has led to more traffic in the woods, essentially putting pressure on the deer, elk, or moose’s habitat. Late winter and early spring are times for game to recoup from severe winters and fatten up. If more people are in their environment it stresses them out and leads them to move from their homes, expending crucial energy reserves. Some unethical shed hunters even try to spook the animal into tight areas to try to knock their antlers off, which is what spurred talk of rules in the first place.
Many wildlife departments across the country, including Nevada’s, have now placed restrictions on when you should be out in the woods looking for sheds. Western states with the heaviest shed hunting pressure, such as Colorado and Wyoming, now have “seasons” for shed hunting. As of 2018, NDOW is restricting the gathering of shed antlers from public lands from January 1 to April 30 in Elko, Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, and White Pine Counties. These critical winter months allow the animals space and time to get strong again, ready to give hunters a good chase once fall arrives.
What You’ll Find
An impressive antler find will get any outdoorsman’s heart pumping. Finding a big moose paddle or a mule deer or elk antler with unique tines is akin to a big fish story. “I’ll never forget the time when I saw something gleaming through the underbrush…” Shed hunting, however, isn’t only about the antlers. When you’re out in the woods looking for shiny white bone, you’ll also see plenty of wildlife and can enjoy being outside in the sun after a long, cold winter. The birds will be chirping, the streams gurgling with new snowmelt, animals will be waking up from hibernation.
Spring in the woods is a time of reawakening, which is why a lot of outdoorsmen use shed hunting as a good time to spend with family and friends hiking the woods in the shoulder season.
We talked briefly to Doug Nielson at NDOW, and while he is usually out chasing bass in the spring, he loves coming across a beautiful shed treasure when he is out hunting in the fall. Here is what he had to say about a specific antler shed he’ll never forget.
“Sheds are a neat thing. When I come across an impressive shed with interesting features, I always wonder about the animal it came from. I remember in college, my brother found an elk shed that was just massive. It was pure white so it had been out there in the sun for a while. Well, it was so beautiful that it wasn’t too long before someone stole it right from the porch. It just shows how valuable sheds are. But whenever you put a financial value on something it becomes wanted. Shed hunters fall into two camps: those who like to get out there with the family and those doing it for the money. We prefer the former!”
-Doug Nielson from NDOW
Prime Revo | Nevada Shed Hunting
We have plenty of racks decorating our walls from quarry we’ve chased over the years, but we love shed hunting as much as the next outdoorsman! Shed hunting is something we are really always doing when we are on hikes or scouting the units we will hunt in the fall. It’s just that much more exciting when we stumble upon a gleaming antler in the brush! We chalk that up to a successful shed hunt.
Happy antler hunting! And don’t harass the animals!