Shed hunting is my biggest passion. Shed antlers can be large, small, fresh, old, chewed, muddy or clean. They can come from a buck I’m familiar with or from a total stranger. Whatever the case may be, each individual antler that I find brings a huge smile to my face and reminds me of why I value my passion for shed hunting right up there with my family, religion and job.
When the folks at North American Whitetail gave me an opportunity to write about finding sheds, I jumped at the chance. My first article about sheds, “The Bones Of Winter,” was published in February 2003. In that article I coined the phrase “the 3-inch rule” and concentrated on providing practical advice for finding sheds on your hunting properties. (Simply stated, the 3-inch rule suggests that instead of looking for an entire antler, look for no more than 3 inches of bone at a time, and you’ll have much more success in finding shed antlers.)
Now, years later, I find myself typing a different type of article about shed antlers. I wish I could write about the big antler lying on the trail, or the small one hanging in a branch. Unfortunately, this piece is quite different, and it’s an article that I honestly wish I didn’t have to write. This article addresses a dark cloud surrounding the sport we love so very much — shed poaching.
A GROWING PROBLEM
Think back to your shed hunting adventures last spring, and maybe even the ones you’ve already been on this year, and see if this scenario sounds familiar: You either own, lease or have permission to hunt an area that’s off-limits to other hunters. Since deer season ended, you’ve gone out of your way to stay out of the area, other than to possibly check a few of your trail cameras. You’ve gone to great pains to let the deer traverse the property naturally without any sort of human interference. Furthermore, you have a good idea of where a very large buck’s shed antlers might be found.
The time comes, and you are filled with excitement and anticipation. As you walk over the property, however, you don’t see any sheds. Instead, you see boot tracks scattered over the entire place. Has this ever happened to you? If so, your property has probably been shed poached. Let’s take a minute to investigate the ins and outs of shed poaching, what to look for, and what you can do to try to fight it.
When I wrote “Bones” several years ago, the popularity of shed hunting was beginning to explode. I knew times were changing, and I suspected that the woods would become more crowded with people hunting cast antlers. I was right. The fascination for antlers and the enjoyment of shed hunting have drawn thousands of people out to search for these one-of-a-kind works of art. Sadly, though, the frequency of shed poaching today is dampening the spirits of many long-time shed-hunting fans, including me.
Since shed poaching involves trespassing on someone else’s property with the express purpose of picking up shed antlers, this act is nothing more than an intentional form of stealing.
I’d like to think that the majority of sportsmen around the country are honest and try to obey all game laws and respect landowners’ rights, but that’s not always the case. I’d also like to believe that when a big shed (from a buck I know about) doesn’t turn up, it’s because I haven’t looked hard enough or possibly because the buck hasn’t dropped it yet.
But having seen enough boot tracks on properties where I have exclusive permission to shed hunt, and having listened to the sad stories of others, I have to face the reality that a thief might be holding one of the very antlers I’ve dreamed about finding for months.