Few renewable resources in the history of man have exhibited the kind of diverse use that we’ve seen with the antlers and horns of various animals. Since the earliest times, man has utilized deer antlers as weapons, tools, trade goods, religious items, decorations, medicines and calcium supplements. Today, of course, the popularity of whitetail antlers is stronger than ever, particularly in the U.S.
You might even call it a form of worship, as there are hundreds of antler collectors nationwide who don’t even hunt. Yet these devoted collectors are as passionate about the antlers they acquire and admire as the most diehard big-buck hunter is about the deer they hunt and harvest. Why? Because antlers, like fingerprints, are unique — no two are identical. Perhaps it is this unique quality, along with the fact that antlers are revered as one of nature’s finest works of art, that has progressively escalated their value to new heights in recent years.
EARLY MAN AND ANTLERS
Paleontologists speculate that Homo erectus, the earliest prehistoric man who walked upright, started out as a scavenger and eventually learned to hunt. He opted first to use the simplest of weapons for survival; he fought and hunted with rocks and sticks. It’s also thought that some of the initial projectile attachments to spears in the early Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago) period were bone splinters and antler tips. The need for a sharp point to thrust into thick-skinned prey like ice-age mammoths and remain impaled for further muscle and organ damage eventually led to the creation of barbed chert, flint and obsidian projectiles. Many of these ancient artifacts can still be found across North America today.
The most notable of all American Indian bows was made from antlers, usually elk, by the Northern Plains tribes. This design was necessitated by the lack of regional bow woods such as ash, chokecherry, serviceberry, wild plum and crabapple. Short sections of whitetail and mule deer antler tines were also woven in a draped pattern and worn on the chest as defensive breastplate for deflecting enemy arrows. Very few of these antler bows and breastplates were salvaged for museum display.
North American Indians made tools and weapons by grinding glacial stone and knapping various dense rocks with the butt of an antler. The ancient art of fragmenting chert, flint and obsidian with antler is still practiced by today’s renaissance “knappers.” Most knappers prefer the antler pedicel of a moose for best results.
CRAFTERS, GO WEST FOR SHED ANTLERS!
If you happen to be an antler lover who plans to head out West on vacation, there are some must-see destinations that you’ll no doubt want to visit. Be sure to stop at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the annual Boy Scout Antler Auction, held the third Saturday in May. Literally thousands of elk, mule deer and moose antlers, along with some whitetail antlers, are sold at public auction and by street vendors. Most are purchased by crafters.
For viewing or buying beautiful antler furniture, don’t miss stopping at Wild West Designs in Jackson Hole (208-523-1010) or in Idaho Falls, Idaho (208-523-8800). Owner Linda Rumsey is one of the foremost antler brokers in the U.S. She buys, sells and exports several tons of shed antlers every year, mainly to Asia. Most are ground into powder for medicine additives, aphrodisiacs and calcium supplements.
Linda also employs craft specialists who create some of the most breathtaking handmade antler chandeliers that money can buy. Her retail showroom offers home furnishings from many of the renowned antler-crafters of this century. I almost hyperventilated when Linda showed me a metal building that measured 50x30x10 feet that was crammed full of antlers from front to back and from top to bottom.
The largest annual antler buying-and-selling event in the country takes place in Dubois, Wyoming, starting the third Monday of May and lasting for five days. This “Antler Rendezvous” is attended by most of the nation’s biggest shed antler brokers. Here you’ll find many dealers with whitetail antlers (for details on this event, call 307-455-2556).
Here’s what you can expect to pay for antlers at these locations: Fresh elk drops retail for about $8 to $12 per pound. Moose “paddles” in good shape are approximately $10 to $15 per pound. First-year mule deer sheds go for an average of $8 to $15 per pound. (Large antlers are more per pound than small ones.) Most antler crafters from the East and Midwest buy their sheds from Western brokers because of accessibility.
All exceptional antlers, especially matched pairs, bring high-dollar amounts and are often purchased by taxidermists for mounting and resale. Though there are six times more whitetails than mule deer on this continent, bulk antler sales favor mule deer fourfold. Why this disparity? Whitetail sheds are tougher to come by!