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If you're human, you're a hunter.
It's just a matter of how it manifests.
Is it mushrooms you seek? Or free-range protein that wears a tawny coat? Or a sale at the grocery store?
It's also true that hunting desires change over time.
Even those of us who start out as ardent pursuers of wild game eventually place a higher value on harvesting activities that don't require a gut-and-drag.
All of which speaks to the nearly universal appeal of shed antler hunting.
Hunter or anti, vegan or carnivore, youngster or nonagenarian, most humans have a natural attraction to antlers.
Searching for sheds is part treasure hunt, part hike.
You can do it alone or with a group. Dogs make great shed hunting partners, too.
And it doesn't require a license, training or experience.
There is no way to accurately measure the number of shed hunters in
I've experienced more than 40
But with each passing year, I more eagerly anticipate finding a hefty antler in the field than shooting a trophy
This year I found my first shed by accident. It was late December and I was participating in the Holiday Hunt in
The 2016 regulations allowed only antlerless deer to be hunted during the late season. But as I walked across a ridgetop to a stand, I nearly tripped over a thick-beamed, five-pointed antler.
I found another, smaller shed as I exited the field later that afternoon.
The next day,
We didn't need to shoot a buck to gather a bounty of antlers.
In our experience, late December was early for the bucks to drop in that area. It turns out others in
His efforts to photograph deer in all seasons and all stages of life requires Crawford to keep tabs on the animals.
"All the local deer shed early this year," Crawford said. "It was the earliest I've ever seen it."
Crawford said he is in contact with 80 people on a shed hunting website. The consensus of the group agreed with his view.
Male members of the deer family, including white-tailed and mule deer, elk and moose, grow and shed antlers each year.
The bony structures are primarily used as the animals fight to establish dominance before the breeding season. Later in the year, in response to changes in photoperiod and testosterone, the animals drop the antlers.
Early shedding in a herd or region is typically caused by nutritional stress or severe weather conditions, according to the
If an individual deer is injured or sick, it will drop earlier.
Crawford said a
More than 600,000
You'd be hard-pressed to find a single one of them who isn't interested in shed hunting.
Competition for shed antlers is intense in some areas, including public parks. In most areas, it's legal to collect shed antlers. Permission is required, obviously, on private land.
"It adds excitement to the winter and spring," said
Many deer hunters combine shed hunting with scouting. Much can be learned about deer bedding areas and travel routes on a late-winter antler hunt.
I found my next shed of the season on
I was lucky to find it in 10 inches of snow.
The conditions in March are typically much better for shed hunters. The fields and woods are free of snow in most of the state and most bucks have dropped their antlers.
It's time for me to start searching for sheds with purpose. I know you can't eat antlers. But finding them helps feed the hunter's soul.
(c)2017 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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