Story by Tom Pagliaroli

No shotgun, muzzleloader or bow.

No meat to go in the freezer.

No need to check the calendar and Hunting Digest for closing dates.

But hunting just the same!

It’s “shed season”, that special time from late January through the first hints of spring in early March when slow, probing walks afield, eyes judiciously scanning the field and forest floors, reveal the discarded headgear of whitetail bucks.

To be sure, hunting “sheds”, as they are referred to in the deer hunting universe, is growing in popularity at an exponential rate. Besides being an enjoyable way to spend quality time outdoors, seeking the “bone” will reveal what kind of bucks are frequenting and/or traversing a given area and gives a heads-up (pun intended) as to what to expect during the upcoming autumn hunting season.

Antler is the fastest growing bone in the mammalian kingdom, fueled by increasing levels of testosterone, starting in early April and accelerating through the lush summer months into September, when bucks rub off the protective velvet tissue on saplings to reveal what will be the buck’s armament going into the rut in late October through November.

As the hormone level dramatically fades, the antlers begin to loosen from their skull top pedicle bases and eventually fall off…sometimes both at a time but most often a one here and one over there occurrence. When they drop is predicated on genetics, habitat, diet, health and geographic location. We’ve observed bucks with a full set of headgear as late as the first week in March, and have also seen the comical one side set as early as the week between Christmas and the New Year.

Shed hunting can be real eye-opener when one finds the side of a big rack or, for that matter, both parts of the impressive headgear that indicates a buck much bigger is, and had been, frequenting the area but had not been observed while hunting. Sure, trail cameras reveal a lot of the heretofore stealthy and secretive woods-wise bucks, but they don’t catch ‘em all. An antler in hand, as the saying goes, beats images on a flash card.

Best places to search for sheds? Deer trails, obvious on the naked ground, even in thick cover, are obvious places, as are edges of cover where field edge and woodland collide. Find a single deer bed (a flattened oval) and it usually means a buck, with a shed no doubt somewhere in the vicinity. Openings in lowland thickets are good spots to find antlers, as are corn fields with some still standing stalks and ears on the ground where deer go to scrounge whatever cobs and kernels remain.

What to do with a shed, or sheds? If a matching pair a DIY mount via a kit is cool, and a single rack, or ones of varying sizes, look great on a fireplace mantle. Currently, we’re having a set of knives made with antler handles, and antler tips make great additions to chokers and leather necklaces. Finding a matched pair makes for a great set of rattlers to be utilized during the rut. Indeed, the possibilities are endless, but the bottom line is that finding a shed, or sheds, is an indicator of what you may encounter when it’s once again legal to hunt deer.

Out of (South) Africa: Dream of a safari? The ultimate hunt of a lifetime? Want to know more about it? Get up and personal with Rouann Nell, owner of South Africa-based Tsala Hunting Safaris, 7-9 p.m. tonight at the Garden State Shooting Center, 1955 Swarthmore Ave., #5 in Lakewood. He’s making a presentation about the incredible hunting opportunities that many (me included) believed were way out of reach for the everyday deer and/or bear hunter. Rouann is trumpeting “Africa is for sale”, i.e. a hunt for numerous species at Tsala, including stellar accommodations, dining, camaraderie and service, is a billfold less $$$ than, say, a midwestern hunt for trophy whitetails or western state mule deer. Moose or elk? Take a second, maybe even a third mortgage. The presentation is free of charge, and refreshments, also free, will be available. See you there!

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