Shed hunting is a rite of spring
White-tailed deer antler sheds are one of spring’s prized rarities, and with the right amount of time, effort and luck, nature provides opportunities to find them in deer-rich locations. While picking up a shed of any kind is a real treat, finding a matched set — particularly of trophy caliber — is an extra special blessing.
Though I’ve been fortunate to nab a few matched sets in my years of scouring spring woodlots, nothing compares to the massive set I discovered on public land in March 2010.
On a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon, something stirred inside of me. Perhaps it was the memory of a dear friend — lost in an automobile accident two years earlier, nearly to the day. Maybe it was the crummy weather, or the long winter stuck inside.
Regardless, the innate bond between man and nature was beckoning — enough so that it prompted me to shrug off the dreariness, slip on a rain jacket and knee-high rubber boots, and venture forth to a damp, vacant woodlot.
Exploring this tract of public property in the midst of a raw, steady rain in early March was a unique experience. There was a quiet, almost barren solitude that didn’t exist when I bowhunted the same area during the lush green days of early October. It had even changed since that gray November evening when I arrowed a doe from my climbing treestand – the only deer I harvested that season.
Now, it was just me, my thoughts and quiet remembrances. As the falling precipitation infiltrated the bare canopy above, my busy feet and curious eyes surveyed the open terrain below. Walking and scanning was absent-minded and monotonous work, but much-needed nature therapy and a great way to reconnect with the wild things I love to pursue.
While traversing a curved ridgeline toward a suspected bedding area, I happened upon a solid deer trail. Even in the wet, matted leaves, the path was well defined, and I followed it for several hundred yards until it intersected with another trail heading down to a creek.
Here, I turned and followed the cross-trail for only 50-yards before discovering an old scrape and several rubs, verifying I was in the general vicinity of a buck’s home turf. Upon returning to the intersection, I again picked up the main trail and took only a few more steps before abruptly halting in disbelief.
Lying in the middle of a small clearing, mere feet from the trail, was a perfect pair of the most beautiful whitetail sheds I have ever discovered. The glistening ivory shone like crown jewels against the flat mahogany of decaying leaf litter.
It seemed funny, but I actually looked around to see if someone was hiding out of sight, playing some sort of trick on me. They were perfectly dropped side-by-side, main beam tips down, as if someone had gently placed them there for me to see.
Finding no witnesses to this miraculous discovery, I hooted and fist-pumped the air, as if I had just harvested the buck myself. As I marveled at the perfect match in my hands, I admired the heavy mass, the long tines and toffee-colored base of the antlers. I still could barely believe it as I whispered a quick prayer of thanks for the good fortune.
Upon returning home, I laid a measuring tape on those magnificent sheds. With a conservatively estimated inside spread of 18 inches, the antlers scored just short of 140 Pope & Young, and they are now among my most treasured possessions on display in my home.
It’s intriguing how I randomly felt pulled to the outdoors that rainy Saturday afternoon. Alone in my thoughts and reflections, I sought more than mere antlers – perhaps a deeper connection with nature, maybe some fresh air and exercise. But what I found was a reward beyond anticipation, and a finer set of antlers I have yet to come across.
With that, I found peace. Perhaps I wasn’t alone after all.