Shed antlers on Sun River Game Range
Shed crazy, shed seeker, shed junky—these are a few of the hundreds of colorful "handles" shed antler hunters use when chatting on the Internet with other self- proclaimed "shed fanatics" about their finds. This Internet-enabled aspect of shed antler hunting is a new twist on a popular spring outdoor activity.
Male deer, elk and moose grow antlers each year, some to a magnificent size, then they drop off to re-grow late winter and spring. Pronghorn antelope shed only their horn "shells" which are black, hollow fibrous sheaths.
Hunting for and collecting these shed antlers in spring has always been a popular activity for outdoorsmen, but it is being considered a "sport" or even a competition for some participants these days.
A national club for antler collectors, the North American Shed Hunters Club, formed in 1991. Members represent the club at annual events where collectors can boast about their finds and have them scored. Internet chat rooms make it possible for an antler hunter to share their experiences, photos and videos with like-minded collectors everywhere. A query on shed antler hunting on YouTube turned up 1,280 video clips on the topic.
So who collects shed antlers these days and why?
"Many collectors are taxidermists that use the antlers in their work, artists, furniture makers and the like," said Aaron Berg, FWP warden in FWP Region 2.
Money is also a factor for some. Nice matched sets or atypical antlers can be readily found on E-Bay or other Internet sites, or antlers are sometimes sold by the pound—which is lawful if they are legally obtained in the first place.
There are plenty of antler hunters who just appreciate nature too.
"There are many we see who still enjoy the warm feeling of finding a nice antler, knowing the big bull that shed it is still out there somewhere walking around," said Mark Schlepp, FWP Region 4 in Fairfield at Freezout Wildlife Management Area.
That brings us to opening day at some of Montana's WMAs—a popular, some might even say raucous, event. WMA's provide critical winter range for deer and elk and host all kinds of other wildlife species. Some of Montana's famed elk herds shed their antlers on these sites.
"When the Blackfoot-Clearwater WMA near Seeley Lake opens, hundreds of people can be staged on the road ready to get onto the range to hunt for antlers," Berg said. "We've observed everything from people wrecking their cars in the race to get through the gates, to troublesome encounters with grizzly bears."
On opening day of a WMA, wildlife managers are most concerned about protecting elk, deer, grizzly bears and other species from disturbance just when their energy reserves are most depleted. Shed hunters should carry bear spray and practice good bear avoidance techniques. Steer clear too of deer and elk, the females are heavily pregnant and soon to give birth.
Last year on opening day at Madison/Wall Creek WMA, about 7,000 acres near Ennis, more than 70 vehicles lined up waiting for the gate to open at noon.
"Many people park their rig in line the day before and camp there like they would at a concert," said Kevin Hughes, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 3 Wildlife Area Manager. "One guy parked his truck at the gate three days in advance so he could be first in line."
In addition to WMAs, any other public land that offers good wintering range for wildlife offers shed antler hunting opportunities. FWP wildlife managers say hunters who search for antlers where they plan to hunt in the fall can gather valuable information about the age and size of the animals in the area and their movement patterns. If that location is on private land, remember to get landowner permission prior to making an antler hunting trip.
Springtime searching for shed antlers, hiking, and other such activities are not allowed through the Block Management Program, but instead require permission from the private landowner. Block Management only covers public hunting and typically is only in effect during fall hunting seasons.
All WMAs with seasonal closures open at noon on various dates depending on the site.