In a slightly-more-perfect world, I would not have to blog about this topic. But we’re stuck in the place we live, and I have to be honest; the behavior that some people exhibit in their zeal to find shed antlers is shocking.
One of my dear friends—a passionate deer hunter and owner of 300 acres in Wisconsin—always calls the annual rifle season there “Nine days of hate-your-neighbor; where people behave in ways that would be unthinkable to them at any other time of year.” He’s exaggerating, of course, but only slightly.
Unfortunately, that same lack of ethics and respect has been threatening the seemingly-benign sport of hunting for shed antlers. I’m not smart enough to figure out the “why,” but I am bright enough to identify some of the issues and comment on them. So that’s what I’ll do in this space, with the annual shed hunt poised in front of us in the weeks ahead.
- Good fences make good neighbors: Trespassing is, without doubt, the biggest issue plaguing shed hunting today. I could fill a book with tales of landowners tracking down shed “poachers” who are dropped off by friends, walk miles through ground they have no permission to walk (wearing ski masks, in case a trail cam snaps their photo) and are picked up again. Property lines are property lines, people; valid whether it’s the opening day of deer season or the night before junior prom. Ask before you enter, and if the answer is no, well don’t go.
- Out of the gate: I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that, given the current craze for sheds, one of the most popular trends is to start early. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be the firstest-to-get-the-mostest mindset…Except when it’s harmful to the critters. If you live in the South, where winter has basically zero impact on the deer herd, by all means, start as soon as you can. But for folks in northern climes, it’s not a good idea. Winter deer survive the season largely by not moving much. And when we start pestering whitetails during this fragile period, we’re not helping their situation one bit (many Western states have opening dates for shed hunting, just to avoid harassment of mulies and elk on their winter ranges). Wait until a nice thaw; the deer will appreciate it, and the antlers will still be there.
- R-e-s-p-e-c-t: I guess if I could synthesize the observations above into one, it would boil down to simple respect. Respect for the landowner, respect for the deer, and respect for our fellow hunters. It should be simple, but I guess it’s not. Trespassers justify their acts because they’re “only looking for a horn.” And the fact that sheds are worth money (yes, there are auctions—and Ebay—where you can swap antlers for cash) doesn’t help things one bit. But I’ve been watching the practice of shed hunting with a fairly watchful eye of late, and I can tell you that if we don’t start cleaning up our collective act, I’m kind of fearful for our future.
They are, after all, only pieces of bone my friends.