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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Submit a question for the author


Question: Can I take my dog with me shed hunting in the state or Illinois.

Reply: Thank you for your comment. Yes, in Illinois you are permitted to hunt for shed antlers with your dog. For more information on what hunting is and is not permitted with a dog in Illinois, see the Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest. Keep in mind that the shed season (December through April) is also the time of year in which Special CWD, Late Winter, and IDNR’s sharpshooting take place. A list of these dates is also available in the Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest. Also, note the requirement of blaze orange clothing for firearm hunting dates as a safety precaution, if you are in the woods.

Question: I’m a non resident. Looking to hunt public land or private land. What’s the best way to go about it?

Reply: The Hunt Illinois website has a phenomenal feature to help you plan your Illinois Hunts. At https://huntillinois.org/ you will see a “Hunt Planner” button that can get you started on whatever type of hunting you are interested in, and suggestions for hunting particular areas within Illinois. Also check out the annual Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/publications/documents/00000923.pdf. At the end of the booklet you will find tables that list the particular type of hunting that takes place at each publicly owned site. In addition, the sections on each type of hunting (deer, turkey, waterfowl, etc.) have detailed tables that will identify if a lottery system is in place for hunting that species on public land. Another great source of information are the Illinois Hunter Fact Sheets. These detailed sheets will provide information on hunting specific areas, and provide contact information should you have questions after reviewing the information. Best of luck with your Illinois hunting adventures!