I've been training bird dogs for 40 years. In the old days, I would spend my summers training, and then in the fall I'd take my string of dogs and hunt the Saskatchewan prairie.
In the fall of 2006, while reminiscing about the prairie, I remembered some of the big bucks I had seen. I also remembered the friendship I had made with Terry Barns of Barns Lures. Terry is a professional trapper. Suddenly a light went on! Why not take my antler dogs to the prairie? This time, it would not be in the fall to hunt birds, but in the spring to hunt shed antlers!
Last spring, Terry agreed to take a few days off from his spring beaver trapping and take me and my nephew Marc Sigler shed hunting.
We decided to take 11 dogs with us. They were all just over a year old, still just puppies, and this was their first real excursion to hunt shed antlers in the wild. I was amazed, as was everyone else who witnessed these dogs work. In 3€‚1/2 days, they found over 100 shed antlers!
Like a good, close-working bird dog quartering 30 to 50 yards ahead, when one of these dogs spots or smells an antler, it goes to it and retrieves it to hand. Long ago, I found that Labrador retrievers were the dogs of choice for shed hunting. They are great at retrieving and they have superior noses. Their scent work, and their ability to discern the scent of an antler from among all the other outdoor scents, is phenomenal.
NORTH OF THE BORDER
Preparation for our trip took months. The proper documentation for the Canadian and U.S. authorities was essential. With all of the necessary paperwork completed, Marc and I, along with the 11 dogs, piled into the truck and trailer and headed north from our home in Missouri.
Marc's Diary -- April 2, 2007:
First day's hunt, 15 degrees
We started the day out at a grain pile on 5 acres of land that Terry had scouted for us over the winter. We found 10 sheds at that location in about two hours. Many of the sheds were visible, but the dogs found those we couldn't see as well.
Terry next led us to a spot by the Antler River (appropriately named). It was a beautiful place to hunt for sheds. A trace of hawthorns, poplars and cocklebur bushes made for a nicely covered walk with abundant deer and moose sign along the trails. I had been out for about an hour and hadn't seen the others in our party, so I decided to go to the top of a hill to see if I could spot them. It was very quiet up there, almost too quiet. I could imagine the coyotes sneaking in on me for a meal.
Then a sly whisper of motion, followed by the pounding of footsteps through the tall grass, suddenly closed in on me with the speed of a perfect ambush. It was Ayla, Roger's yellow Lab. I could literally hear my heart pounding. She had found me, and I was reunited with my team. We didn't find any sheds, so we moved on.
The next place Terry took us was to a cornfield down the road from his house. Sheds are hard to see in cornfields because the remaining stalks of the harvest camouflage the field with antler-like shapes and colors. Terry found one shed, and all of a sudden Roger and the dogs started finding sheds like crazy. I was still searching hard for my first find. After two to three hours of searching, the only thing that turned up was an extra-large jackrabbit. As we headed back to the truck, I still had not found one shed in that field.
The wind was blowing about 30 mph, making the temperature feel like it was below zero.
The dogs seem to love the cold, though, and they came in with another 10 sheds. Terry spotted some hay bales that looked as though they might have provided a good windbreak for wintering deer, so we hunted that area and came up with another seven sheds. After dinner we took the dogs out for their evening free roam, and they brought Roger two more sheds. That brought our total for the day up to 27.
Marc's Diary -- April 3, 2007:
Second day's hunt, 10 degrees
Terry pointed us towards an abandoned farm where we found six sheds. It was amazing -- the dogs worked in this cold weather with so much excitement that it gave us the drive to continue on. We then headed to an old apple orchard where Ayla dug up a nice skull and rack in a windrow. Unfortunately, we could not touch the prize that Ayla found; it's against Canadian law to take anything with a skull attached.
There was an abundance of thick cover and brush that would have made it very difficult at best to find any sheds without the dog's skill at being able to locate them. After lunch we headed to a very large area with even more brush and forest. Roger's pit bull Porter came back with two. Then a matched set was spotted, and the dogs quickly retrieved them as well.
Our next location was in a farmer's cornfield. Between the humans and the dogs, we found five more sheds in short order. On the way back to the truck, I stepped right over another antler, and I realized how easy it would be to miss others if not for the keen noses of the dogs. By the time we reached the truck, the dogs brought in a couple more, and we had a grand total of 19 for the day. But the best was yet to come!
Marc's Diary -- April 4, 2007:
Third day's hunt, minus 5 degrees
By now, word had gotten out about what we were doing, and many of the local farmers wanted us to rid their fields of antlers because those sharp tines have a sneaky way of ending up in $800 to $3,000 tractor tires. Roger had talked to one of the farmers during breakfast, and he learned about some more grain piles and fields where the deer had been feeding and wintering.
We stopped for a quick peek into a hollow just east of the co-op to check it out. I found one antler next to a tree and one in the grass. It was just the way we liked to start our day!
Next we went to an old farm with a 5-acre field surrounded by aspen trees. Roger and Ayla found one antler in the bush and another in the tall
From there we were directed to another farm where a number of deer had wintered because of the excellent food, water and shelter it had provided. I found two sheds in the woods where the deer had bedded next to some grain bins and farm equipment. Terry found one while riding on his three-wheeler.
Our next stop was at ranch where we'd been told that an estimated 500 deer had wintered in a field across from the ranch's stockyards. I was beginning to understand that the location of the local deer's wintering sites was critical in finding their shed antlers. In the North Country the deer bunch up in the winter, unlike the states in the more southerly locations, where they stay fairly spread out.
I found a couple of small sheds on the outskirts of some brush, and then it was slim pickings for a while. I ended up finding four more on the trails going into and out of the bush. That made a total of six for that spot, and man was I excited! On the way back to the truck, I noticed that all of the guys were standing there waiting on me. They all had ear-to-ear smiles that I could see from 100 yards away.
I thought they were smiling at me because I had found so many in one spot, but to my surprise, they were smiling because between them and the dogs they had found 30 sheds!
That made 36 sheds in one spot. On our way out, Roger and Terry spotted one more from the road.
Marc's Diary -- April 5, 2007:
Fourth day's hunt, 16 degrees
This was our day to travel to our next location for more antler hunting. Before we left, one of the farmers we had met asked us to stop by his house. He said he had something that he wanted to show us. Amazingly, a young buck had gotten his antlers caught in some bailing twine as he had jumped over a nearby fence. In his struggle to free himself, he had ripped his antlers out of his skull. He got away, but he left his antlers twisted in the fence.
We went back to a hay field where we had been the previous day. We found 10 more sheds. The dogs were really amazing as they found most of the sheds and two complete sets, including one that they dug out of the ground. Then we saw two of the dogs in a pond bog. They were trying to dig an antler out of the mud. They finally freed their prize, and then there was a brief fight to see who would bring it in for the praise.
For Marc and me, this was the shed hunt of a lifetime! We left Canada with so many stories to tell. One of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that some of the sheds we found were fresh and some were several years old.
Some of the sheds were from mulies, and others were from whitetails. But it made no difference to the dogs. They were able to scent them all. If you've ever wondered whether or not antlers give off scent, rest assured that they do. And the length of time that a shed is left in the wild makes no real difference in the dog's ability to find it.
Without question, this trip proved the effectiveness of using antler dogs. The dogs that we used for this hunt were all less than 15 months old, as mentioned. They'll only get better with age. For anyone who is truly interested in shed hunting, whether it's for fun or for gain, the use of a dog is a real asset. Remember my motto: "If you are hunting sheds without a dog, it's just a walk in the woods."
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To learn more about shed antler dogs, call Roger Sigler at (816) 289-1154 or visit www.antlerdogs.com.