By Wendy Bennet
Most species of deer in North America shed their antlers annually so they may grow larger ones the following year. Finding these sheds is more than just a fun outdoor activity, it's become a sport in itself. If you're interested in trying to find some on your own, follow the advice given here.
Probably the most important factor in determining whether you'll have success finding any antlers is the time of year you go looking for them. Deer shed their antlers between the months of December and March, so this is usually the best time. One exception to this rule is if you're hunting fat north (up into Canada), you may need to go a bit later, as deer here shed later in the year.
If this is your first time going looking for them, you'll need a hunting ground. Common sense should tell you that an ideal hunting ground is going to be where the deer are. If you're a member of a deer hunting club, or know someone who is, see if you can arrange a deal to search for antlers there. Remember, going on private property is both illegal and dangerous, so always make sure you have permission beforehand.
One of the great things about antler hunting is the fact that it requires little gear. The only things you absolutely need are something to carry your finds in (such as a backpack), food, and water. You may also want to carry a hand-held GPS with you as well. It'll allow you to mark your boundaries and other information that could prove useful during your hunt.
There's no secret formula for deciding where you should look. When I go searching for antlers, I scan from the ground to eye-level, looking for any signs of antlers or deer activity. Most people assume antlers will only be found on the ground, but the truth is they are found just about everywhere. It's not uncommon to see antlers stuck in the branches of trees where deer have ran into them and got their antlers stuck. I've also seen antlers on the sides of river banks, crevasses, and in the middle of swamp marshes.
As you look for antlers, also look for deer in the area. If you spot any male deer missing a side of their antlers, there's a chance it's around somewhere.
If you're hunting in a thick forest area with lots of leaves and other debris on the ground, find a long stick nearby that you can use to prod the ground. Antlers can become covered up very quickly when the leaves begin falling, making it impossible for you to spot them otherwise.
The sport of antler hunting is new and many laws and regulations are being changed every year regarding it. Before you partake in this emerging sport, give your states game and fish office a call to find out what's acceptable and what's not. Some states prohibit the taking of antlers that are attached to the skull, while others allow it only under the condition you have proof of killing the deer.