Here in the heart of winter, spring is (to say the least) an anticipated time of the year…but don’t forget what spring is really about: shed antler hunting.
With sharp eyes and high hopes, you can transform a typical hike into a hunt for shed antlers. As the weather warms, going outside is much more appealing and the snow is melting to reveal the forest floor once again. Rodents and other varmints have stayed cozy in their dens waiting for winter to break before leaving, so they’ve left shed antlers untouched. Another reason why spring is the perfect time to hunt for shed antlers is they’re typically dropped between mid-December and early April, so spring is an accumulation of all those months of dropped antlers.
If you want to increase your chances of finding shed antlers, look in popular feeding areas, deer beds, trails to and from deer beds, and places where a high jump is required (fences, large gaps, creeks). All these places are frequented by deer where their antlers may fall off, get rubbed off or be knocked off in a fight. Bringing along your faithful four-legged companion is another way to find more antlers and/or work on shed training.
During the Great American Outdoor Show, Josh Miller, a pro dog trainer, conducted a very informative and useful seminar on shed-dog training. Here are some tips that you can use help teach your dog those skills.
Start by using rubberized or old antlers as a fun toy to play tug-of-war or fetch with. The point of this step is to get your dog excited about the antlers, and to see them as a reward—the reward being playtime! Once your dog acknowledges the antlers as a fun object, apply antler scent; Dog Bone Antler Scent or Rack Wax works well. Additionally, throughout shed training, try to touch the antlers as little as possible. You want your dog to find the antlers because of their scent, not yours. Once your dog has become familiar with the antler scent, decrease its application. Antlers do not emit much odor so while you’re being mindful to not touch the antlers, also apply less and less of the scenting agent. This will help them to pick up even the slightest smell of shed antlers that could be blowing in the breeze.
The next step is to start “hiding” the antlers and have your dog retrieve them. I say “hiding” because you want to start out by placing them within plain sight for your dog. If finding the antlers is too difficult because you’ve hidden them under leaves or behind trees, your trainee could lose interest and stop searching. Another smart technique Miller showed off at the seminar is to use large antler cut-outs. Placing your scented practice antler behind the cut-out will help your dog master what scent and shapes to look for in the woods.
The importance of having a shed dog, or a hunting dog with shed-finding abilities, is that they cover five times more ground than you can, and their scent of smell is superior.
This weekend, get up and get out and find a pair of antlers.