Published March 11, 2011, 12:54 PM

The search for deer sheds

Here’s a pop quiz for you. What can you do as a family, get some exercise, spend time in the great outdoors, make some mad money and if you’re a hunter, prepare for next season-all at the same time?

By: MARK GREENIG Special to the Record, DL-Online

Here’s a pop quiz for you. What can you do as a family, get some exercise, spend time in the great outdoors, make some mad money and if you’re a hunter, prepare for next season-all at the same time? Go shed hunting. For the lay person, a shed is a deer antler cast from a deer sometime during the winter months. We are fortunate to live in an area with an abundance of whitetail deer, which provides a great opportunity to search out those treasures of nature. Let’s discuss the monumental explosion of this new pastime.

Over the past two decades interest in large deer antlers has grown dramatically. In regards to deer antlers, bigger is indeed better. Deer hunting in this country is a billion dollar a year business. Any outdoor hunting magazine will offer a multitude of deer hunting opportunities for huge “racks.” Many of those same businesses have leased thousands of acres to provide what many call a quality hunt. I can assure there is no consensus on whether such “canned hunts” are fair chase. That is not the purpose of this article.

However, those style of hunts have had a large impact on the value of deer antlers, both good and bad. Twenty years ago, a deer rack scoring 160 points (total measurable inches of a deer’s antlers) would net the lucky finder as much as $500. According to the current issue of Outdoor Life, just five years later such a fine specimen would only bring half that figure. Today, activities such as the mentioned canned hunts, deer breeding farms specializing in genetics to produce abnormally large deer antlers and multitudes of deer quality management areas have raised the bar on what score is necessary to bring big dollars.

Consider a large mule deer rack can sell upwards of $1,500. Outdoor Life states, “A single whitetail shed that was found in 2007 brought $5,000 at auction in Dubuque, Iowa. Found in northern Illinois, the shed measured 123 inches. A year earlier, the matched shed set from the same deer brought $19,000.”

Most bucks harvested in our area do not measure anywhere near 123 inches between both antlers. If this antler points dialogue is confusing, let me suggest a trip to our local sporting goods store for a quick education. They have a bulletin board with large antlered deer from last years big buck contest. What you will find is usually a score of 155 points or less will win their annual contest. Remember, that score includes both antlers. So, one antler measuring 123 points is huge to state it mildly.

Did you know there are antler brokers who buy and sell any and all sizes of antlers? In the field report by Outdoor Life, they identify Jim Rasmussen of Helena, Mont., as one such broker. Last year Rasmussen paid five to six dollars per pound for antlers considered non-trophy. He paid six dollars per pound for elk antler and ten to twelve dollars for moose antler. He states the vast majority of antlers are sold or purchased by the pound. That illustrates how difficult it is to harvest a whitetail deer with exceptionally large antlers.

You may be wondering where do all those antlers go and who is buying them. Deer antlers are sold to crafters, carvers and furniture makers. Elk sheds are also made into various products. However, Rasmussen says most elk sheds end up in Asia and used for nutritional supplements.

In closing, now is the best time of the year to start your search for sheds. As soon as our snow pack diminishes antlers will become more visible on the ground. Also, finding them early helps reduce rodent damage, as antlers provide a good source of calcium for mice, squirrels and the like.

Next time we will discuss where and how to look for sheds. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.