Nearly two months ago, my father and I went searching for Deer antlers in the hills near our home. Although I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the outdoors–hunting, fishing, and camping–I had never had the inclination to search for shed antlers. This year, I began thinking about them very early. Several projects that I want to do will require pieces of an antler (more on those projects when they’re complete). Thus, my father and I planned a trip to find a branch-shaped bone in a forest of sticks.
Early each year, male Deer begin growing a new set of antlers which develop while covered with a velvet lining that covers them until they have fully formed. In late summer, the velvet lining falls off, leaving a dead bone material that forms the antler. The antlers last through the winter and into the early months of the new year, at which time the base of the antler begins to deteriorate and the antler falls off. These dropped antlers are commonly referred to as “sheds.”
The trip wasn’t easy. We hiked several miles over hilly country and through thick trees. Nearly every moment was spent with our eyes on the ground, trying desperately to distinguish between the abundant supply of fallen branches and the set of antlers we sought. Unfortunately, although I’m sure there were antlers in the area, they eluded our searching completely.
Although we didn’t find any antlers that day, the experience with my father was a very positive one, and it left me wanting to return to the hills for another search. That same day I shot a video about my experience hunting for antlers. In that video I promised to return to the mountains sometime in May to once again search for shed antlers. But this time I’d be searching for Elk antlers. That trip was yesterday.
Early in the morning I picked my father up at his home and we drove up the canyon to a spot in the hills where the Elk are known to congregate in the winter. We hoped to have a good hike, enjoy the scenery and the company, and especially find some antlers. By 9:15 am we had arrived at our destination and we were getting our packs on to begin our hike. The weather was great, the country beautiful, and we were all alone in the mountains. Things couldn’t have been going more perfectly.
It took us a little more than an hour to hike up the mountain (as far as we were going anyway). At that point we hadn’t seen much more than the ground we walked on and the occasional lizard in the bushes. Still, I was enjoying myself (besides the trip earlier this year, I haven’t been in the mountains for years). We sat for a while and ate a snack, just enjoying the view.
On the way back we cut over to the next ridge over from where we hiked up so we could see over into the next large valley. The view was incredible, but we didn’t stay for long because there was a herd of sheep nearby and several ranchers on horseback pushing it up the mountain to summer pasture. We didn’t want to disturb them so we moved on.
As we made our way down the mountain, I was surprised by how far we’d come. It’s no secret that I’m not in the best shape of my life, and so hiking a little more than 2 miles into the mountains without staring death in the face was just one more reason why I was thrilled with the trip. Returning to the subject of finding shed antlers… we kept heading down the mountain.
By the end I was getting pretty tired and I could feel how my legs, and especially my ankles, were weakening and becoming a little shaky. In short, I was ready to be done and I was mostly focused on putting one foot in front of the other (don’t judge my fitness too harshly, I’m working on it). When we were within about 200 yards of my car, I saw it. Two steps in front of me, right where my feet were going to land, was an antler. I couldn’t believe it, after miles of active searching, the first antler I ever found was directly in front of me. I couldn’t help consider how remote the odds of finding it like that.
This particular antler wasn’t in perfect condition. It had laid in the open, in perfect view of the sun for months. Still, I was incredibly happy about the find.
Over the next couple months I’ll be working on at least two projects that will involve this antler: 1) making whistles, and 2) making a handle for a knife I’m making. As I’ve considered these and all the other possible ways I could use this antler, I can’t help but want to go right back out into the wilderness and look for more. What can I say? I’m hooked!