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The Zen of Shed Hunting

Sunday, February 12, 2017

This is how it feels to find a beautiful shed. "Shed" is what country folks call dropped antlers. You start looking for them in December, and you keep looking for them, off and on, all year long.
This was my first in years. Decades.  Found Feb. 6, 2015. 

You're walking along, and there it is. That's my favorite thing about finding them. Your mind can be a million miles away and suddenly it's right there, buzzing, every cell focused on this gift on the ground before you.

Chet, come back here and see what Mether found.

If you will look at my pawdyprints in the photo above, you will see that I already found this. Would you like me to bury it for you? It is fresh and it needs buried.

Sheds are gifts from the deer. Imagine growing such a fine rack of bone on your head, and then having it just fall off. Maybe it feels wonderful to be free of it, once the blood supply ceases and the bone deteriorates. Maybe they walk off without a backward glance. But sometimes I wonder if they wish they had a means to carry them around.

The beauty of shed hunting is it gives me an excuse to get out and cover miles in the woods and fields at the time of year when the skies are low and weepy and I tend to be, too. There's nothing that will light up your day like finding a shed antler. Or "shed," as we who hunt and find them like to call them.

There are all kinds of places you can take shed hunting. I have friends who make a goal of finding BOTH antlers off the SAME buck. Now THAT is shed hunting. 

Fantastic as that would be, to me that's taking it a bit too far. It seems too much like hubris, to expect that you're going to be able to root around and find a matched set of antlers from the same buck. True, the hormonal and blood supply changes that cause antlers to drop tend to occur on both sides simultaneously, but what if he carries one around for another week before dropping it?

April 14, 2015. It was a good spring for shed hunting. This antler now hangs above my drawing table from a loop in a bit of monofilament. It's my back-scratcher. I use it many times a day as I'm working. I keep one in the bedroom, too, for those morning itches. Sorry if I just made your back itch. Had to reach for my antler and give myself a good scritching.

And one amongst the bluets!!~ I found two this blessed warm April afternoon. What could be more beautiful than polished bone in bluets? Ahh, April. Come she will.

You can carry shed hunting well into spring. You hope when you find them they still have that polished bone sheen that makes them a smooth delight to handle. Old weathered antlers are referred to as "chalks" and the weathered chalky surface means they aren't near as nice to hold. 

April 16, 2015. Just two days later, I came upon this magnificent antler partially buried in rubble beneath a barbed wire fence crossing. That makes sense, that it would fall off where the buck either leapt or struggled through wire. Sudden jolts, as in jumping, or impact with objects can jar them loose, help them fall. But only when they're ready to drop anyway. And that time is anywhere from January through April.

I took a four-mile hike yesterday down into Dean's Fork. I say "down into" because Dean's is a deep holler. When I began my walk at daybreak up top of the ridge, it was positively balmy. I was shooting without gloves! The snow was melting fast and I was seduced by the warmth and the gentle hints that there might be enough sun to go on a good hike. So I began my descent into the holler.

I had my long lens with me, which is a heavy habit I've picked up since surgery and shingles slowed me down in December and January. I figured if I couldn't go at a decent pace, I might as well lug the big rig and come back with some decent shots.

As I climbed down, the temperature dropped and dropped. It was easily 15-20 degrees colder down by the creek than it had been up top in the hayfields. Snow still adhered to everything. The cold air had just settled in the Fork and was lying there, waiting for me. Brr!! Well, I was committed to the hike and it was beautiful, and best of all the mud down there was still frozen, making for much nicer walking.

I put up two big deer and something in the heaviness of their thudding hooves and their build and overall darkness told me they were bucks, though there were no antlers to confirm that suspicion. 

This is where the camera tells me so much. If you click on this photo you can see his nuts. Aha!

Big as he was, he floated like a butterfly. I never tire of photographing deer on the fly.

Further invading his privacy as a certified cervid paparazzo, this  handstand shot revealed even more. Do click to enlarge the photo. 

But the best? Click on this one to see his fresh, still bloody pedicel scar, February 12, 2017. There's likely an antler or two in that black raspberry thicket somewhere, and chances are I'm never going to find it.

While we're admiring him, check out his barrel chest and muscular forequarters. That's something you won't see on a doe. I'm getting better at sexing antlerless deer from a distance, but there's always more to learn. This kind of knowing is where hunters have it all over most naturalists, and why I love talking with hunters. They know things that you can only know by doing a lot of naked-eye observation, by getting your hands on the animal and inside it, too. 

Falling far short of learning by killing, I absolutely love the things I'm learning about deer just by studying my own photographs. I could never put together their stories or understand what little I do of their natural history, their social bonds, and their behavior without my trusty Canon 7D.  These big, fascinating animals walk among us, and they've got stories to tell if only we will slow down, stop, watch and listen to what they're saying.

Speaking of seeing...a nice set of fresh bobcat tracks from the little cemetery just a mile down our road, February 10, 2017. The forepaw (right) is just under 2" across, and the span between fore and hind tracks is around 8".

And dead fresh tracks from Feb. 11, on my way down into Dean's. My gosh. I looked all around to see if the cat was still visible!

And last evening, I just couldn't come inside. I decided to stalk deer out in our meadow. And it occurred to me that it was a little more than a week early, but it was just the kind of night--60 degrees and loamy--that a woodcock might decide to fly. Nothing but silence and distant coy-wolves yipping, until at 6:27 pm, the weak sunset still illuminating the west, I heard the twitter-fall of a single woodcock, testing the evening air. No peents, just a brief liquid song and wing-twitter, as if he'd been flying over and just had to take a quick tumble over this likely spot.

February 11, 6:27 pm, Whipple Ohio--the first woodcock flies.

It was a Hey There! from heaven, straight to my leaping heart.


Hiking in the Maine woods we can find moose antlers. Really heavy and hard to pack out. Sometimes you just gotta leave 'em for the mice to chew on.

I occasionally find gator antlers here, but nothing as fine as your shed amongst blurts.

Only ever found one shed. Mistook it for a silver bare branch at first.

A week or so ago on a trip to the yarn store, I spied buzzards circling low, and then the felled deer on which they were wanting to feast at the edge of the road. I said to myself, "if they're still here on my way back, I'll move the deer away from the road, so they can feast a bit more safely." Yes, on my way back home, all was untouched, so I parked the car and began to assess the situation. I finagled the legs of the carcass so it could be dragged easily away from traffic without getting snagged on the split rail fence it was underneath. As I inspected and moved it, my heart sank deeply. It was a buck. One antler had been sawed off right at the skull, the other antler was broken raggedly, leaving six inches of jagged bone. I sure hope that deer was hit and killed instantly by a vehicle and not killed merely for its antlers.

I buy antlers from the store for the dogs to chew on. Better for them than rawhide. Always funny to think I'm buying em when plenty of people just find em. We're suburban folk though.

I found an elk shed years ago along the river-rock strewn bank of the Ohanapecosh River JUST outside Mount Rainier National Park. I was with my spouse-of-Nat'l-Park-Ranger pal, who said it was fine to bring home. It's not large or impressive in the least, but it's beautiful and has a place of honor among our family photos in our dining room.

What a wonderful post! Love the little things nature leaves behind.

Wow, you've found lots of nice ones! Having a talented "antler dog" like CB working the beat can only help. I'll never forget the feeling, many years ago as a young person, of that breathless moment when I found my first shed - "treasure of treasures"! And I'm not embarrassed to admit that the same words still cross my lips when blessed enough to stumble upon one today. It's as if these beautiful shed antlers contain within them a little bit of all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells the majestic buck experienced during his summer/fall/winter spent in the wild - left behind in a secret place where he knew they would someday be found by a respectful admirer. A bit like a favorite rock star signing and giving you their guitar from the stage!

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