Reprinted from the Spring 1990 issue.
Many lessons are taught while scouting the woods of the whitetail deer. The real lesson comes when the shed antlers of a mature buck are found when scouting. An array of facts will unfold as the situation is investigated further. Facts, such as area genetic potential, physical characteristics, locale and travel patterns, to name a few, are crucial to the serious hunter. This data, along with hard work, will help connect the serious hunter with a possible harvest for the upcoming season.
While in the seclusion of post rut activity, most bucks have cast their racks by March. Primarily, a buck’s antler growth cycle is related to photoperiodism (the amount of light in which he is exposed to). It is similar to the process of photosynthesis in plant life. As light is gathered through the retina of the eye, a pituitary gland at the base of the brain is activated. Hormones are released into the bloodstream in turn causing the growth cycle of both antler and body. As the months pass and the days grow longer, the bucks testicles descend. This produces a high level of hormone called testosterone. When interacting with the pituitary hormone the antler growth cycle comes to a halt. Blood discontinues to flow through the velvet membrane which then dries and falls off. In the fall season as the rut begins, the amount of daylight is reduced. There is less light gathered by the bucks biological senses. The level of testosterone peaks out and the buck intensifies his aggressive pursuits of the female gender. Once rutting activity stops both the pituitary and testosterone hormone recede. The buck will now go into seclusion. During the beginning of the winter months, a separation layer forms at the pedicel area. This causes the base of the antlers to dry up and dislodge from the skull plate. However, certain governing factors will cause the bucks to cast their racks at odd times of the year. In some severe cases a buck may not lose his headgear at all. Elements such as testicle injury, hormonal imbalance, disease, or genetic inheritance will cause these biological incidents. Further, nature has its function and it seems that the casting of antlers by the majority is a sure indication of perpetual population.
Finding a fresh shed is actual proof that its bearer survived the previous hunting season. With that in mind, one can rest assured that the buck who had worn the antler, will be roaming the woods with a rack of larger dimensions. When found, there is an aroma of mystique surrounding a shed. The feel of the bone mass along with its long tined branches, allows one to appreciate nature’s artwork. The finding of shed antlers is a very time consuming and enlightening experience. In most cases sheds can be found near natural obstacles or yarding areas. Fences, rock walls, well used trails, and wintering areas are the first places to check out. The best time to look for sheds is right after snow melt. All signs from the previous rut will still be evident. At first it may take some time to develop an “eye” for detecting sheds on the forest floor. Of course if the sun hits the antler directly, it will stand out like a sore thumb. However, if the day is overcast the brownish tine of a fresh shed will blend in well with the forest floor. If you find a shed, the other side should be somewhere in the vicinity. Fan out your search for the other half in semi-wide circles. Spend the whole day in that area if you have to. Take the shed you have found and toss it on the leaves to accustom your eye to its appearance. Be patient and good things will come along.
In areas of heavy hunting pressure, the opportunity to come in contact with a fair sized shed is meager. Most heavily hunted areas contain a deer herd that rarely exceeds the age of 2.5 years. This is due to the endless harvesting of young animals. Deer can be compared to fine wine; they get better with age. When these bucks are taken between the ages of six months and 1.5 years, there is what I would like to term as “genetic kill-off”. Without time to develop, the gene pool breaks down. When this happens the possibility for trophy production is at a void. Nonetheless, on privately owned land or areas of low hunting pressure there is great potential for tremendous antler growth. This and other specifics, such as, the calcium and phosphorous content in the soil, nutrition, and a healthy gene pool with
good buck to doe ratio, will enable one to find the sheds of one or more trophy bucks. When discovering a shed you are probably in the bucks core area. If you find his bedding area, stay out of it. No one likes a stranger in their bedroom. If your scent is picked up in the bedding area, chances are the buck will relocate. Check the trails on or around the area from where the shed was discovered. Examine hoof direction to discern travel patterns to and from bedding and feeding areas. Scrutinize the rutting sign from the previous year in proximity to the found shed. The crem de la crem to all this scouting would be multiple sightings of this particular buck. With all phases of scouting complete, now you can set up your stands well before the season opener. Now that ninety percent of the work has been done, the waiting game begins.
The shed antler has had many uses in the past as it does today. Aside from the harvest of a buck, primitive man used the shed for both tool and weapon. Today man still utilizes the antler in very much the same way. The cast antler is a tool of information. Location, size and health can be uncovered from such a discovery. The shed becomes a weapon during the annual rut. When the hunter clashes the tines of one antler with another, he or she is imitating the fight sequence of two mature bucks in dispute for dominance. With a good buck to doe ratio (around 3-8), there is a great chance that a mature buck will come into the simulated fight sequence in hopes of kickin’ some butt. Experiencing such an encounter will likely cause heart failure. The harvesting of a mature buck with the aid of his own sheds is overwhelming beyond belief.
With the many facets associated with the shed there is only one that has any real scientific significance. The fact that it is a product of nature’s own diverse workings is proof that there is a being of a higher realm. The shed is a buck’s name tag. The physical characteristics are so incomparable in most cases. When several bucks are observed as having similar antler design, it is safe to assume they are of the same genetic background. The antlers of a five year old buck in comparison to those of a two year old are what separates the men from the boys. We as hunters realize the significance of this and suffer from the nightmares of many a mossy horned buck. Nonetheless it is the beauty of natures creation that awakens us at 3 a.m. to leave a bed of warmth and security to stalk through thicket and thorn in pursuit of these majestic creatures. The thrill of the hunt is the addicting agent behind such behavior. We constantly search for inner fulfillment only to come home with a higher sense of self. The bond between nature and our natural instinct to act as predator is spontaneously inherent . The discovery of the cast antler brings one back to its place of origin. Here it is realized that this is fidelity at its purest. Long live natures way.