A Closer Look at Shed Hunting
September 22, 2010
In addition to the recreational benefits of shed hunting, another use of sheds was discovered years ago. In fact, American Indians and other primitive tribesmen used shed antlers in a variety of ways. Antler tines, burrs and beams served both utilitarian and decorative purposes at countless campsites across North America.
Some antlers were cut up for tools, while others were cut up for jewelry. It boggles my mind to think about how many gigantic whitetail antlers were probably found back then, and cut into tools!
Later on, shed antlers and deer racks were often used for coat and hat racks in cabins and rustic villages. Today's craftsmen continue to find new uses for sheds, and this demand no doubt contributes to the surge we've seen in buying and selling. Burrs can be made into belt buckles and buttons. Tines can be made into pens. And elaborate carvings of natural scenes on antlers are extremely popular these days.
The person who came up with the idea of making lamps out of shed antlers probably struck a gold mine! He or she must have been thinking, "People want to buy these things I make. In addition to the time spent walking and putting the lamp together, I can make 100 percent profit with no other real effort required!"
Interesting, isn't it? But it's more than that. Being able to make money off sheds is a big draw in the sport, if the love for profit outweighs a person's love for the sheds themselves. Since I really don't deal in buying and selling sheds, I decided to get a fresh perspective on the business end of the sport. I went to Dan Cole of Minnesota, a shed hunting veteran for over 35 years who is also a very serious antler collector. Dan has hunted sheds in nine different states and four Canadian provinces. He's made over 25 trips to Canada exclusively for shed hunting. Dan has some great insights.
"Ninety-eight percent of all shed antlers sold fall in to the craft antler business," Dan says. "And there are some very beautiful decorative items designed and crafted out of antlers. Chandeliers, lamps, wall sconces, pens, buttons, earrings, door pulls, carvings and a variety of other items can be beautifully made by skilled crafters. This aspect of antler sales will always have its peaks and lows, but there will always be some market for craft antlers."
There is also a very lucrative market for unusually large shed antlers, and they sometimes bring very high dollar amounts in auctions and private business transactions. Granted, the rumors here are just as prevalent as those surrounding a big deer that was shot. I don't know how many times I've heard exaggerations like, "Did you hear this or that store offered him $50,000 for the rack?"
Huge amounts aren't offered as often as some may think, but there is no question that large sheds do bring big money. If you log onto an online auction site like e-Bay and type in "deer antlers" or "shed antlers," look at what some of those auctions bring in price. Heck, one of my friends was offered several thousand dollars for a set of sheds he'd found. It's insane what people will pay for them these days!
The fact of the matter is that there are a growing number of folks out there who truly love antlers. And like a Van Gogh painting, high-scoring sheds and deer racks bring the most money simply because they are so rare. It all goes back to supply and demand.
A shortage of goods (in this case, large antlers) brings much higher prices to offset the effect of the demand. Several collectors I know, including Dan, will often buy sheds just to re-sell, thus bringing in revenue for several larger sheds that can be purchased later on. Thus, more quantity is sold, but higher quality (size-wise) is brought back into a collection.
Also, the re-selling of sheds provides extra cash for more shed hunting trips in other states, or more travel funds for expenses incurred in Dan's traveling whitetail display. My friend Bentley Coben, mentioned in Part 1, adds yet another perspective on antler prices.
"Another example of big antlers bringing large amounts of money into the shed collecting business involves shed replicas," Bent notes. "Just like with the racks themselves, replicas of sheds from top-end bucks are very popular among collectors."
Today, Bent not only shed hunts very successfully in Saskatchewan on his own account, he also operates a successful shed hunting guiding service (although he's never sold a shed he's personally found). There are shed antler dog breeders and master trainers like Roger Sigler of Missouri who train and sell antler dogs.
Every shed hunter has his or her reason for why they love the sport so much, and the reasons are often varied. But not everyone agrees with some of these different reasons. For instance, I've seen several situations involving the Internet where shed hunters were bashed for selling the sheds they own, and I feel this needs to be addressed. I personally believe that if they're your sheds, you can do what you want with them. Period. I could never see myself selling any of my antlers, but it all boils down to what your priorities are.
As much as I love sheds -- and as much as I'd cry to see them go away -- if it came down to selling sheds or my family going hungry, I would do what I had to in order to keep my family secure. But if I can help it, my sheds are here to stay for a long time. The one thing I hate to see associated with the shed antler craze is the increase in antler-related crime that has taken place in recent years. The large sums of money offered for sheds and racks can bring out the worst in some people. Every time I hear about a huge rack or set of sheds being stolen, it sickens me beyond belief.
I've heard several stories about sheds being stolen from deer shows, and poaching sheds while trespassing on another's property has become a huge problem in many areas. As long as sheds are worth so much, the problem is not going to go away anytime soon.
THE FUTURE OF SHED HUNTING
We've talked about the huge increase in shed hunting that's taken place in recent years, and we've talked about the recreational and monetary value associated with it. One question remains: Where does the sport of shed hunting go from here? Let's take a quick look at where we're at right now. I can tell you that avid collectors like Bent,
Dan and myself agree there are two types of shed hunters in this modern age-- recreational shed hunters and serious shed hunters.
Dan summed it up very well by saying, "Most hunter talk forums on the Internet have a shed hunting topic, and this has drawn a lot of interest from people who normally wouldn't have thought about it. The popularity of the sport is as strong today as it ever has been. However, 95 percent or better of today's shed hunters are classified as 'recreational.'
"This means that most of these hunters will look for sheds a few days out of the year, primarily around their own hunting grounds. They might find a dozen or so sheds and call it a good year. They are more apt to take family and friends along, go at it at a leisurely pace, and not compete for areas or sheds. These people call themselves shed hunters, but they're really 'recreational' hunters.
"The remaining 3 to 5 percent of the shed hunters would have to be classified as 'serious' -- maybe even fanatical. These are the people who log hundreds of hours each year, who search out all the territory they can, and who often travel to other states or provinces just to go shed hunting. These people usually find close to 100 or more sheds per year.
"For these people, and I include myself in this category, shed hunting has gone beyond fun and recreational. It's considered to be a very serious hobby, often more serious then actually hunting deer.
"Not happy with searching out the sheds from just one particularly large buck, the serious shed hunter knows about many large animals, and he searches for all of them and follows up on almost every rumor or story he hears about a big buck sighting," Dan continues. "The serious shed hunter also starts earlier in the year and ends later, oftentimes being the last one to call it a quits. These people are few and far between. When you meet one, however, you'll realize they have a shared trait -- passion! Nothing will deter them."
I can't agree more with what Dan says. That set of sheds found way back in 1991 got me addicted before I ever knew what sheds were. Now, I hold antlers on my couch while watching TV. I smell sheds when I pick them up, and I look and try to analyze every single scratch on an antler. I hate getting bright white pedicles dirty. On top of that, I can remember the date, time, location, scenery, and smell of every shed I've ever picked up.
Honestly, I think the sport of shed hunting is headed in a good direction. Without a doubt, many more shed hunters will hit the trails in upcoming years. But to keep this future looking bright, I think one very important thing has to happen, and this is something Bent and I discussed over the phone.
At the end of the day, as we take our families and friends out looking for sheds, we still need to be friends when all is said and done. Before you ever set foot in the woods, you should have a well-thought-out game plan on how to divide the sheds you find, and you should stick to that plan.
Do you have a particular buck that you've found a series of sheds from? What happens if your buddy's son finds the shed you want and he's proud that it's the biggest shed he's ever found in his life? Scenarios such as this really make it worth setting some guidelines before the hunt, whatever they may be. No matter what happens, sheds aren't worth losing the ones you care about. A friend of mine from Iowa has a statement on his Internet profile that says, "Jealousy ruins friendships."
Boy, isn't that the truth? No matter how much we love sheds, and hunting, we must work together and realize there's more to the sport of shed hunting than just the antlers themselves. If we can do that, and hold true to our goals, shed hunting will continue to grow and prosper. And good Lord willing, those sheds will continue to drop and bring us happiness for as long as we're able to go search for them.