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White-tailed buck, moose antlers shed over winter exposed for picking

Shed hunting has become a popular way to get back outdoors, to get some fresh air and exercise, after a long winter.

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Joe Shead, who runs a musky fishing guide service in the summer, says spring is prime time for shed hunting in places where winter snow recently gave way to brown ground, revealing deer and moose antlers that were shed over the winter.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — Joe Shead has been shed hunting since 2001. Shead (yes, it's pronounced "shed") literally wrote the book on shed hunting in 2006: "Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-Tailed Deer Antlers."

Since then, Shead, who lives along the North Shore just outside of Two Harbors, has become somewhat of a national star in the growing community of shed hunters, people who comb the woods and fields of deer country looking for antlers dropped by bucks over the winter.

Some people collect sheds to make money, and there are buyers paying big bucks for sheds used to make decorations, for dog chews and for medicinal purposes or supplements in some cultures. Shead, on the other hand, does it strictly for fun.

Spring, as the snow recedes and exposes bare ground, is prime time for shed hunting in the Northland. This is when last year's antler gold — shed by most deer between December and March — begins to reveal itself. Go too early and the antlers are still covered by snow. Go too late and someone else will be holding your shed.

So far, across much of the Northland, the lingering snow in the woods has been a pesky problem for shed hunters.

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"I did head south last week and found a few,'' Shead said earlier this week. "I'm really itching for the snow to melt."

Shed hunting has become a popular way to get back outdoors, to get some fresh air and exercise, after a long winter.

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One of Joe Shead's favorite examples from his extensive collection of deer antler sheds, these four sheds came from the same buck over three years, including both sheds from the most recent year. Shead said he finds both sheds from a buck only about 15% of the time.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duuth News Tribune

Joe Shead's shed hunting tips

  •  Look for three basic areas: Places where deer bed down, places where they feed and the trails between the two. Follow enough deer trails long enough this time of year and you'll find sheds.
  • In early spring, concentrate on southern exposures. They receive the most late-winter sun, and snow recedes here first. Plus, deer like to live here, soaking up radiant heat from the sun. "Follow the snow line. Or drive south until you run out of snow and run into open ground, and look right in that transition area," Shead said.
  • Don't expect a matched set every time. Bucks can lose each side of their antlers weeks and miles apart. "As far as getting both, I'm probably like a National League (baseball) pitcher, batting about .150," Shead said. But don't give up. There's also the chance both sides dropped close together.
  • Walk slowly. While you may think covering more ground is best, covering less ground very thoroughly actually finds more antlers.
  • Look close to you. You don't have to look far ahead. You'll get there eventually, so focus on where you are. Shead said most of his sheds he sees first within about 10 feet.
  • Look for unnatural shapes. If an antler falls tines-down, all you'll see is the curve of the main beam. If it falls tines-up, you might just see three or four tines protruding from the snow. In the snow, you don't usually see a complete antler.
  • Check out the lone evergreens. Bucks like to rest under these lone spruces or jackpines or balsam firs. Sometimes, that's where they lose their antlers.
  • In heavily shed-hunted areas, such as Duluth, you'll have to hunt before the snow melts. Many bucks drop antlers on the snow, but if you wait until the snow melts, someone else probably will have found the antlers.

Learn more

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Joe Shead's book, "Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White Tailed Deer Antlers,'' was published in 2006.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

To order Joe Shead's book, "Shed Hunting: A Guide to Finding White-Tailed Deer Antlers," or his DVD, "Go Shed Hunting with Joe Shead," go to goshedhunting.com/shop . The book is $18. The DVD is $15. A $4 shipping and handling fee applies to all orders.

You can also learn a lot by following Shead at goshedhunting.com , at facebook.com/joe.shead and on YouTube at Joe Shead Outdoors .

Did you know?

Members of the deer family, cervidae, are the only animals that grow and discard body parts — antlers — on an annual basis. All types of male deer, elk, moose and both male and female caribou grow antlers beginning in the spring. By late summer, the antlers are fully grown. In fall, bucks and bulls use their antlers to fight rival males and attract mates. In winter or early spring, the antlers are shed and new antlers begin to grow.

Responsible shed hunting rules

  • Know where to go. It's illegal to shed hunt in all national parks, Minnesota state parks and state Scientific and Natural Areas. Most other public lands are open to shed hunting, such as national forests, state forest and county lands. Several other states do have restrictions, rules and even seasonal limits when shed hunting is allowed: Check before you go.
  • Don't disturb animals. Don't approach animals or follow the same ones on a daily basis, especially in late winter/early spring when they are already stressed.
  •  Respect private property. You always need permission to be on private land. Antlers that are shed on private land below belong to the landowner
  • Don't take vehicles off-roading in spring. The ground is water-logged at this time of year and off-roading in the wrong place can damage critical wildlife and fish habitat. Travel by foot only.
  • Try not to be in the same spot every day. Deer and moose might need to be in that spot for food or cover, and your presence will keep them from it.
  • Keep dogs under your control. Don't let dogs approach or follow wildlife. State laws prohibit dogs (and people) from harassing wildlife.

Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Minnesota DNR

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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