By Jennifer Bilott
-- My husband, Jim, introduced me to hunting shed antlers before we married. When I tell my friends I’m going shed hunting, they look at me in a puzzled way and say, “You have three garages. What do you need a shed for?” So I must elaborate.
Looking for antlers can be frustrating, but it’s one of my favorite things to do. The first time my husband took me – in Baltimore, Md. – I found two sheds and was hooked.
I found the first on a cool March morning while perusing the woodlot with Jim and my brother-in-law, John. I was not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.
We made a few passes in a meadow near John’s house with no luck, and then we drove to another patch of woods. We pulled over, lined up on the edge of the woods and began our trek. We started down a gully into an area of thick brush. My husband advised me to stay on the heavily traveled deer trail. Twenty-five yards in, I saw a nice 4-point antler (probably from a 120-class 8-pointer) in the middle of the trail.
I thought to myself, “This is too easy!” I even looked around to see if my then-boyfriend had planted it there for me to find, but he was about 15 yards away and not even looking at me. When I announced to the boys that I’d found one, I don’t know who was more excited.
Five minutes later, my brother-in-law found the matching shed 30 yards away. We kept searching the same area when I came upon an old shed that was buried under some leaves and leaning up against a tree. The only reason I found that one was because I was listening for the other shed hunters and standing still while looking around. The antler was nestled just behind me at the next tree.
It sometimes pays to stop and take in the scenery when shed hunting. I find more sheds looking back at where I’ve been.
One of the most memorable days of my life involves a shed. On April 9, 2003, Jim called to ask me to meet him after work to look for sheds at one of our local hunting areas. When we got there, Jim advised me to travel down the hill. He’d meet me at the bottom.
When we caught up with each other, we didn’t have any sheds. We walked up a nearby trail to make another pass when, lo and behold, I came upon a small antler. I quickly ran over and picked it up, only to discover it was attached to fishing line. At the other end was a small wooden box. I immediately opened the box to find my diamond engagement ring.
He asked me to marry him in the woods while shed hunting. That was so romantic and perfect.
We now travel all over North America to find these “bone rewards,” as I call them. Shed hunting is like an Easter egg hunt for adults.
Sometimes women look at things differently. My husband rolls his eyes whenever I talk about our Easter egg hunts. I don’t think he cares for that analogy. But he has found many sheds over the years. He has lined a whole room’s baseboards with hundreds of his finds. That room happens to be my favorite.
We have our own separate collections. My husband gets a kick out of the fact that I won’t mix mine with his. I have them numbered and logged in a book so we will always remember where we found them. I learned this tactic from him.
Don’t let him fool you. Even though he tied my engagement ring to a shed for me to find, he asked for his shed back after I said yes.
Each and every shed has a special meaning, and each of us has our favorites, which aren’t necessarily the biggest ones. They are the unique ones. They differ in color, configuration and even feel.
Even a spike is a trophy. If you think about it, a spike is even more of a challenge to find.
These cast-off antlers also have many uses. You can make a coat rack, drawer handles, and wine bottle or snack dish holders. My husband has even made one into a toilet paper holder. He also carves eagle heads and wildlife scenes on antlers, but we can never part with or deface the antlers we’ve found ourselves, even though we have hundreds. We order antlers by way of the Internet for our craft projects.
Like I’ve already said, however, shed hunting can be as frustrating as it is exciting.
One spring after harvesting a beautiful cinnamon black bear, I walked 86 miles in the white poplar-covered landscape of Canada. In four days, I found only four sheds. We trekked through the bush, through open farmed fields, and the eerie Halloween-like pine bogs.
But I consider myself lucky. My buddy Eric walked with me to find not a single antler. I could relate to his frustration. On the upside, he got plenty of exercise.
Even though I didn’t find the quantity of sheds that I would have thought, quality made up for it that trip. I found the shed of a lifetime. I actually pulled a girly move during the discovery. I screamed. But the antler was so large that I couldn’t fit my hand around the base of it. It got heavy to carry, too.
It came from an 8-pointer that would have scored in the 160s. It just so happened that my brother-in-law found the same side antler from the same deer, only a bit smaller. It had to come from that deer from the year before. We found the sheds less than a mile apart.
Looking for antlers is a great hobby. It gives you a reason to travel and see the country. We have looked in Kansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Canada. It is fun to discover how the deer differ from state to state.
We have introduced our friends and family to the sport. My brother is now addicted and travels with us to Illinois every spring. It was such a thrill for me to see my brother pick up his first giant Illinois antler. I could see the obsession in his eyes. At that moment, I knew what my husband felt when I found my first antler with him.
The excitement overwhelmed and motivated us to press on for 10 more miles. Shed hunting has become our favorite thing to do. Even though Jim and I are both whitetail fanatics, it’s just as fun finding a set of monster buck antlers, knowing he may still be around for the next season.
It is also wonderful to spend time together, see the countryside, learn about deer movement and exercise. Just make sure you have a comfortable pair of boots.