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Illinois Department of Natural Resources
February 2019
February 1, 2019
Photos by Steven Renner

Antler Shed Hunting

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By Eric Bumgarner

What could be more beautiful in Illinois than an antlered white-tailed buck standing along the edge of a field with a slight snow cover and the backdrop of a woodland forest? It is a sight that will fill you with excitement and warm your heart as you watch him go about his day. There are many ways to enjoy this fascinating animal whether you are a hunter, a photographer or merely an observer.

Another white-tailed deer activity is hunting antler sheds which, for hunters, provides an outdoor activity during a slow time of the year and allows us to learn and be a part of Nature’s amazing process. Shed hunting requires little more than your time, patience and effort, however a few hunting tips might help make your trip a little more successful.

Know When to Look

An antler in the snow, with blood speckling around them.

Antler shedding usually begins after the breeding season, as early as December, and continues into spring as late as April. As a buck’s testosterone drops, his antlers will eventually fall off and a few months later the growth of new antlers signals another year. While many people wait until March to start looking for sheds, and they will find some, most bucks would have dropped their antlers two or three months earlier. The longer sheds lay on the ground the more chances they may be eaten by rodents—which gnaw on all types of bones, including antlers, to obtain calcium and other nutrients—or located by someone else.

Know Where to Search

Begin your search by learning where the deer are traveling, feeding and drinking. Concentrate your search efforts on these areas first as the more active areas could produce more antler sheds. Next, search areas that deer utilize to cross: fences, creeks, drainage ditches, or any structure that the deer might jump or run though which could cause antlers to fall off. Finally, move on to the staging areas of the timber and bedding areas where the deer relax and congregate with concealment.

Know Where to Search

The best advice is to use a system. Wandering aimlessly might yield that lucky find however if you stick to a plan, search the areas I have listed, walk the deer trails and utilize a grid search or other technique your efforts should be more successful. Remember to move slowly and look down. If you are walking too fast and looking ahead, it is guaranteed that you will miss antlers. Look for an antler sticking out of the leaves, The curvature or the “V” shape of the tines is a telltale sign.

Legality of Antler Shed Hunting

All property belongs to someone so be sure you have permission from the landowner before entering their property unless the property is publicly owned and rules and regulations have been established to allow natural objects to be removed. I personally like the slogan, “Know Before You Go.”

Regarding lands owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Chapter 520 5/2.33t the Illinois Wildlife Code states: It is unlawful to “take or attempt to take” any wildlife or “parts thereof” including carcasses and shed antlers on the property of another without permission. This also includes all state-owned property where there could be different requirements from one area to the next. According to language in chapter 20 ILCS 835/6 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, shed deer antlers are an ‘inanimate natural object’ and may not be collected from any State Park. Similarly, the Natural Areas Preservation Act (525 ILCS 30/2) prohibits the removal of any object (including shed antlers) from any dedicated Nature Preserve or buffer area. The public may, however, collect shed antlers from all other lands owned or managed by IDNR, including Fish and Wildlife Areas, Conservation Areas, Recreation Areas and Boat Access Areas, provided the area is otherwise open to the public.

Antler shed hunting provides good exercise and a chance to spend time outdoors. Plan your trip, let someone know where you are going, take the proper equipment for the elements and supplies to keep you energized and hydrated. Most of all, get outside and enjoy what Nature has to offer.

Antlers protruding from snow alongside dead grass.

Retired Lieutenant Eric Bumgarner spent 24 years with the Illinois Conservation Police. Eric is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for protecting the natural resources.

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