Thursday, February 19, 2015

Shed Hunting

Atypical near-record rack.  MDC
Want to go deer hunting but can't pull the trigger on Bambi?  The "other deer season" is still open - shed hunting.  We gave some tips on shed hunting techniques in last month's blog, but that led me into more antler questions.

Why antlers?  Producing them is very expensive in terms of energy.  Antlers are bony growths protruding from the skull as extensions.  The cells producing antlers are the fastest growing tissues known, exceeding cancer cells in replication.  The growth of moose antlers occurs over 150 days and may exceed 80 pounds, an average growth rate of 1/2 pound a day!

Although we think of them as offensive and defensive weapons of bucks during the rut, their more important role may be in advertising.  The velvet covering the new antler growth each year has the highest concentration of scent glands, their oily secretions which are then deposited on saplings as the deer rub off the bark.  Even with the velvet gone, secretions from glands under the eyes are rubbed onto trees and spread with the antlers.

Why shed them?  One theory is to replace antlers which might otherwise be damaged or broken, while another is to keep in proportion to the deer's growth.  A third theory is to impress the ladies, and advertise the buck's health as a mate.  Older, sick or malnourished bucks produce smaller antlers, a sign of truth in advertising.

An interesting study of Alaskan moose antlers* "sheds" light on the last theory.  I will quote Mark Elbroch in his book Animal Skulls.
"A moose with a smaller rack would never challenge one with larger antlers.  One researcher, Anthony Bubenik, put this to the test with Alaskan moose.  After constructing incredibly large antlers for himself, he joined the courting arena.  The males quickly backed off, and Bubenik was unexpectedly confronted with numerous receptive females."
Missouri Monarch found in 1981.
At times, unusual antler configurations occur, a feature prized by shed hunters.  These include extra tines, downward pointing antlers and marked asymmetry.  Although the effect of these abnormalities on the lady deer is unknown, they are extra bragging points for the shed hunter.

The best example of atypical racks is the "Missouri Monarch"which holds the Boone and Crockett world-record for nontypical racks.  It was a 333 7/8-inch 44-pointer that was found dead in St. Louis County in 1981.  The story of that find, now valued at one million dollars, is reported here. Incidentally, the mount is displayed in the Missouri Department of Conservation headquarters in Jefferson City.

No permit is required to possess shed antlers. If antlers were not shed and are still attached to the animal’s skull, the shed hunter must get authorization from MDC to legally possess the deer skull rack. This allows for keeping the skull rack but not reselling it, or any other commercial use.

Another way to hunt for sheds is with a shed hunting dog.

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