After months of winter’s unjust incarceration, we are finally released into the sweet unfiltered air. One of my favorite post-winter, almost spring activities is looking for shed antlers. The best time to go shed hunting is now (February-March) – assuming you don’t have 3′ of snow on the ground!

Bucks can drop their antlers anywhere from December through March. After the breeding season, testosterone (a key hormone in antler development and retention) levels drop-off markedly and the bone to bone bond between the antler and the pedicle deteriorates. It is the most rapid deterioration of living tissue known.

Of course, breeding season ended months ago. So why do some bucks keep their antlers until March? The answer is as simple as every buck is different. Do all children have their first tooth by 6 months old? Certainly not. There are lots of late bloomers out there, including myself, who didn’t sprout their first tooth until 12 months old.

While it is typical for most bucks in an area to shed their antlers within a month or so of one another, that doesn’t mean all of them will. Each buck has an individual antler cycle and this plays a role in when antlers are shed. This antler cycle is independent of all other bucks and is thought to be related to the animal’s birth date.

Deer-Forest Study

As for finding them, there is no surefire way. Sheds can be found anywhere – bedding areas, feeding areas, travel corridors. There is no telling exactly where or when an antler will fall off. And while they are easy to see on a deer, an antler on the ground is akin to a needle in a hay stack. But who cares! It’s sunny and warm and the snow and ice are on the run. Who wants to go back to prison? Or have a Cabin Fever relapse!

My advice: Go for a walk; take your dog or your kid; check out those bedding areas, feeding areas, and travel corridors; enjoy the PA outdoors and with a little luck, you’ll be rewarded. But even if you aren’t, isn’t it great to be OUTSIDE?

-Jeannine Fleegle, Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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