Thursday, February 02, 2012

Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Here’s the scoop on hunting shed antlers

Bill Cochran Bill Cochran is a Roanoke Times outdoors columnist.

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This is the favorite time of year for Matt Knox to be in the deer woods. The big guns of hunting season are silent and the bucks are beginning to shed their antlers. Knox delights in finding dropped antlers, and the same can be said of a growing number of outdoorsmen known as shed hunters.

I asked Knox, who is the deer project leader of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, to answer some questions about this hobby:

Q. How would you rate hunting sheds compared to hunting the bucks themselves?

A. I like shed hunting better. You get to sleep in and it involves hunting with a dog. I have not shot an antlered buck on purpose in over 25 years.

Q. How long have you been a shed hunter?

A. Off and on for about 25 years; pretty seriously for the last five.

Q. How did you get started?

A. A close friend, Joe Hamilton, founder of the Quality Deer Management Association and Budweiser National Conservationist of the Year in 2011, got me hooked in South Carolina. He lived on the plantation where they filmed Forrest Gump and a group of us made an annual late winter event of shed hunting, typically finding I would guess 20 or more per year.

Q. Is hunting sheds a growing attraction or does it just attract a few diehards?

A. It is exploding, especially as deer hunters pass up more young bucks and manage for older bucks. On managed properties, there are more antlers to find than ever before.

Q. When is the peak time for shed hunting in Virginia?

A. You can start going as early as mid-January, but mid-February to mid-March is best. Trail cameras come in handy for determining when the bucks lose their antlers.

Q. Do you search for sheds in the same places you hunt deer?

A. Yes and no. The best places are green fields, where oats or wheat are growing, and food plots where deer feed and the sheds are easily spotted. A property where Quality Deer Management is practiced is ideal. Last year, a gentleman from Bedford County reported that he had found five big sets of antlers in one small clover food plot.

Q. I understand there are antler brokers who buy sheds by the pound and pay huge sums for trophy racks. Do you sell yours?

A. No. I give nearly all of them away to friends, especially kids. It is illegal to sell antlers in Virginia, including sheds.

Q. Say you find a nice right-side shed, does that increase your effort to locate the matching left side? 

A. Yes. I haven’t kept records, but we probably find both sheds 10 to 20 percent of the time, sometimes just feet from each other.

Q. When one antler drops, how long is it before the second one is shed?

A. Seconds, minutes, hours, days or weeks.

Q. You mentioned hunting with a dog. I understand serious shed hunters train dogs to sniff out antlers. There’s even a Web site on this subject, www.sheddogtrainer.com. What is the most important thing your dog contributes?

A. The best part of shed hunting is going for a long walk in the woods and fields with a dog.

Q. What traits make for a successful shed hunter?

A. Perseverance and luck. Perseverance, because shed hunting can be a low return endeavor. Many days you find nothing. A good day is when you find a couple to a half-dozen sheds. Last year, I spent more time than ever and found only about a dozen.

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