February 13, 2012
By Gordon Whittington
It sounds odd to say we're "pursuing" something when what we're after isn't trying to get away. But for a number of activities involving stationary objects, that verb seems quite appropriate.
Antiquers rush from attic to attic, digging for some special relic that hasn't moved an inch since 1924. What's the big hurry? They fear that, no matter how long some forgotten object has laid there, another collector with a keen eye for a treasure still might get there first. No wonder obsessed mushroom hunters go all clandestine in their quest for fresh morels, which are coveted by so many diners. Look in the right place, at the right time, and you'll get a basketful. Wrong place and/or wrong time, and you'll get nothing more than exercise.
The annual antlermania now in full swing shares many traits with antiquing and mushrooming. Whitetailers across North America are combing forest and field, scurrying about as if their quest to find freshly dropped whitetail antlers is also a race against the latest end-of-the-world prediction. Some of these fanatics actually began shed hunting weeks ago, when most of the antlers were still actually "trying" to escape, by virtue of being atop the heads of the deer that grew them. With each passing day, more bucks are literally casting crowns, meaning that even if a likely area was searched last month — or even two hours ago — it might now have a bony prize to be won on the next recon mission. It's an Easter egg hunt in which the eggs can lie there for years before vanishing due to the elements, mineral-craving critters or man.
So crazed are some human bone collectors that they'll stop at virtually nothing to beat everyone else to the right antler. And by right, I don't mean the one opposite the left. I'm talking about one that is big, unique and/or from a specific deer on someone's "hit list." The adrenaline rush is sufficiently strong that, upon spotting an antler lying some distance away, many shed hunters will sprint to it. Never mind that no one else is within miles . . . hey, some rival might be dropping in by parachute!
I've felt the rush that comes with finding a nice shed, so I get the addiction. Finding antlers is exciting. But I have to shake my head a bit at some of the extremes to which I know certain shed maniacs will go.
In many locations, there's a growing problem with antler "poachers" sneaking onto land to which they have no legal access. They cruise it for sheds and haul off what they find. If they like the looks of the place, they keep coming back — illegally every time — in hopes of stealing even more antlers. In short, they're just like poachers in the classic sense, only they aren't armed. At least, most aren't.
Human trespassing isn't the only concern in shed season. Over the past few years, training dogs to find and retrieve antlers has become a major hobby in itself. Whereas once only a handful of people were into this, now the number of shed-dog owners numbers at least in the hundreds. These folks and their canine scouts are doing a remarkable job of finding more antlers than any human could alone.
It's nice to be able to take Fido for a romp. Problem is, some guys have decided they can make the dog an unwitting accessory to a crime. While the dog's owner sits in his parked vehicle on a public road, the dog roams adjacent posted land and brings out whatever antlers it finds. This is expressly illegal in some places, but not all — probably because it's such a new form of misbehavior that government officials haven't yet wrapped their heads around the fact it's even occurring.
Is the shed craze causing you any real problems, whether as a hunter or a landowner? Feel free to chime in.