I can feel myself becoming a less patient person. I used to enjoy the wait. I enjoyed the wait because I knew that once the anticipated event arrived it would soon be over, and that tends to make me sad. The wait was always part of the event itself. Not anymore. I am sick of waiting. I am ready for the next thing to start! The only good coming out of this impatience I have developed is my eagerness to try new things to fill the time until the next event starts. This weekend, shed hunting was this event for me.
I never gave much thought to shed hunting. It kind of sounded like aimless wandering through brush. And to be honest, it kind of is aimless wandering through brush. It was fun though! It was different than tromping through the brush, trying to be quiet while simultaneously trying to keep up with the rest of the group, while carrying a heavy gun or bow and attempting to keep my eye out for deer while watching the ground so I wouldn’t step on a dry stick that would inevitably crack louder than a gun shot. Shed hunting is much more relaxed! You can talk and the idea is to walk slow so you don’t miss the shed on the ground. You can take snacks and they can be smell super strong because their scent won’t scare away the antlers. It’s great!
Before you head out shed hunting in Utah, you have to take an antler gathering ethics course. The course is required if you are going to shed hunt between February 1st and April 15th, which are the prime months for looking for antlers since they have just fallen from the animal. The course is on-line and after completion be sure to print out the certificate. You can find the course here: https://dwrapps.utah.gov/wex/dbconnection.jsp?examnbr=507274.
First things first with antler hunting: what is an antler? I know this seems silly to define for you seasoned hunters, but for someone like myself, a novice to the outdoors, a definition helps me out a lot! Antlers are the actual bone of the animal. When they are in “velvet,” the bones are covered with blood vessels, which supply nutrients to the bone for growth. The bones tend to grow symmetrically and can have branches. The bones are filled with bone marrow and other bone goodies and growth is controlled by the release of hormones, particularly hormones related to testosterone, which also explains why males tend to only grow antlers. As the season progresses, the antlers become hard and the velvet coating dies. The animals use bushes and trees to rub the velvet off the antlers, which also results in the beautiful, oiled brown color the antlers take on by fall. As the hormones released for antler production start to decrease, the antlers start to weaken and eventually break off. The cycle then starts again. This happens in the animal family known as cervidae, which includes deer, elk, moose, and caribou.
Horns are different! Like antlers, horns are also the bone of the animal, but they have a keratin sheath covering them. They can vary in shape and size, but horns do not branch and they are not shed. The animals continues to grow the horns for their entire life. Also, unlike with antlers, males and females can have horns. Horns happen in the animal family known as bovidae, which includes over 140 species such as cows, buffalo, antelope, sheep, goats, and all their other relatives. Whew, that was a mouthful!
We only hunted for a couple of hours. Spring weather is quite unpredictable and over the course of the day it varied from hot and sunny to snowing. During those few hours, we found three different sheds. All our sheds were from previous seasons, which you can tell because they were white, brittle, and dried out. Sheds from the current season will still have the brown color and be smooth in texture. One of our finds we had to leave in place because it was still attached to the skull. You CAN’T take antlers that are still attached to the skull!
Shed hunting is something your entire family can join in on, but be warned, they will be tired! It is hard walking! One of our hunters actually fell asleep and had to be carried back to camp, and it is never exactly easy to carry the dead weight of a sleeping toddler. But they still had a blast!
If you are wondering what to do with all those antlers you do find, there are TONS of suggestions out there. You can look into your area and see who is buying them. If you find large elk antlers that are from the current season you can fetch a pretty penny per pound for them (word on the street is $8/lb.). You can also use them to make some pretty neat home décor items such as lamp stands, wine racks, coat hangers, and more. I even saw a Christmas tree online that was completely made of antlers. It was quite neat. They also make nice yard art, if you use them right.
It’s my favorite part of the blog: Adventure Pairing! I love coming up with pairings. So, for shed hunting, I figured that I would take a drink that is full of flavor and is a special treat! Something that stands completely by itself because you don’t have to worry about it messing up the flavor of your food. I went with an Apricot Ale by Pyramid! They are so great! The apricot flavor really comes out in this drink and so sometimes it can ruin your dinner if it messes with the other flavors. Not with shed hunting! Delicious! I let my niece Marin pick out what her drink pairing would be for shed hunting and she went with her ultimate fav: chocolate milk! I had some of that too because it sounded great. I also let Marin pick the snack for this adventure and she said because we were camping she wanted marshmallows. So, there we have it, apricot ale, chocolate milk, and marshmallows!