I hated leaving childhood and the annual Easter morning search for hidden goodies behind. Until I discovered shed hunting, the adult equivalent of a child’s egg hunt, I didn’t know grown-ups could still experience the thrill of finding well-hidden treasure, in this case antlers camouflaged by tall grass. My husband introduced me to this spring ritual soon after we met. Discovering that first drop thrilled me the same way finding Easter prizes brightened my early years.
Any Easter Bunny worth his salt knows how to obscure an egg so discovering it is nearly a miracle. Well-secreted eggs require a gifted hunter’s eye to zero in on miniscule differences between the hiding place and the colored cackleberry.
Mother Nature and male deer combine to practice the Bunny’s trickery on a less sophisticated level. By late winter, grasses lose their green and most of their winter russet and gold to turn a tawny bone-color. Tall, sere blades perfectly camouflage bone-colored antlers, hiding them until a person nearly steps on them.
Bucks that don’t become menu items during hunting season lose their antlers somewhere between January and March. As the blood flow to living tissue dries up, the bony growth loosens to fall off as deer leap over fences, cross un-even ground, or knock the cumbersome headgear against branches as they travel through wooded areas. Sometimes both beams shed at the same time, or the buck drops one protrusion at a time. As a result, experienced drop hunters know to keep looking for a second prize in the near vicinity of the first.
Once an antler falls, the fun begins. The very best part about this seasonal activity is it isn’t over in one morning. Throughout the shedding season, different animals may drop antlers near the place where one was already found, so shed hunters can return to a site several times and find treasure. We once visited a location near Casper, Wyoming, where herds went year after year to lose their racks. We found fresh drops as well as weathered beams.
Just as some Easter egg hunters are luckier than others at finding prizes, some antler hunters are luckier. Part of this has to do with how often these folks search, but some individuals have the eye. Over the years, I have found a few sheds while my husband has found many. We know some dedicated hunters who find fill the beds of pick-ups with their gleanings each season.
I always hoped to find enough to build arch similar to the one on the square in Jackson Hole. Without a lot more work than my spouse and I have put into this, that isn’t going to happen. However, I wouldn’t mind taking a lesson from friends who turn their discoveries into lamps, playing pieces for checker boards, buttons, drawer and knife handles, and wine racks. Regardless of whether I become an antler artisan or not, I love the childhood thrill of finding a well-hidden object.