Nebraskaland March 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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March 2019 • Nebraskaland 39 Shed Hunting in Nebraska Much More Than Antlers STORY AND PHOTOS BY RYAN SPARKS ate winter can be a trying time for people who love the outdoors. With closed hunting seasons and thin ice, spring still seems a long way off. However, shed hunting is a refreshing mind cleanse that will motivate you to get outside during the doldrums of winter. Shed hunting is simply searching for the cast-off antlers of species like elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. Every year these animals shed and regrow their antlers, leaving clues about their size, location and travel routes. Ask a seasoned shed hunter why they enjoy it so much and they will probably tell you it's about more than collecting antlers. Deer trails stick out like I-80 in winter, concentrated turkey feathers and droppings are a sure sign of a turkey roost, and all the miles you put on looking for antlers up your chances of stumbling across some morels (and works off your winter belly). Searching for sheds makes you intimately familiar with the land. Of course, there are also the antlers. Most deer hunters swoon after them whether they're attached to a deer's head or not. They have an almost magical quality. They also tell you what caliber of bucks are in the area and make memorable decorations in your home. Getting Started Most people know that bucks shed and grow a new set of antlers every year, but many don't know the biology behind this phenomenon. Biologists agree that antler growth and dropping is regulated by hormones and daylight hours. Antler is one of the fastest growing tissues on earth and can grow more than an inch a day. After rutting activity has stopped and light levels decrease, a buck's testosterone drops significantly. This decrease spurs the creation of a bone cell called osteoclast. Osteoclast removes the connective tissue between a buck's head and antlers by absorbing the calcium in the bone. Once the connective tissue weakens, the antler falls off. Osteoclast creates small striations that feel coarse to the touch causing the base of a shed antler to feel like sandpaper. Other factors such as injuries and stress from hunger or extreme cold can cause testosterone and, consequently, antlers to drop. While bucks can lose their antlers as early as December and as late as April, most deer in Nebraska go antlerless between January and March. There aren't any hard rules to when antlers are shed, yet there are a few tricks to know when it's time to lace up your hiking boots. I like to park along a field where I have seen deer feeding. Using binoculars, I can see if there are any antlerless bucks in the field. If you find a field filled with deer, but they all look like does, it probably means there are some bucks mixed in who have lost their head gear. It's a good rule to hike as many miles as you can, but all that walking won't do any good if you're not in an area with sheds on the ground. In winter, deer are either bedding, eating or traveling between the two. Start by searching in the thickest cover you can find. I've found that harshly cold winters concentrate deer around food sources and winter cover, which also concentrates shed antlers. My best shed hunting spot is a cluster of cedar trees you almost have to crawl through. I've found several pairs of sheds lying right next to where a buck has bedded. You ideally want to find a location with clusters of beds. These are round patches where deer have laid down and matted the vegetation. Seeing lots of deer droppings on the ground also indicates that deer are concentrated in an area. If you find an antler, look in a grid pattern around where you found it. If you're lucky you'll find its match. Fields where deer are feeding are also prime locations. I like to find a high point and use binoculars to scan large swaths of a field. Once you think you have thoroughly covered both bedding and feeding areas, walk the adjoining trails. While hiking, note rubs, scrapes, fence and creek crossings, and scout for locations to hang a tree stand or L Finding bucks you were hoping to hunt next year that didn't make it through the winter is a harsh reality of shed hunting.

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