Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
North Central Iowa: Six beautiful inches of new powder fell on the region this week. But for most people, the natural winter beauty was soon overshadowed by subzero temperatures, polar winds and wholesale school and other public events closings. By the time daylight arrived this morning, temperatures had dropped to ten below and increasing NW winds were gusting in excess of 30 mph, dropping wind chill values to a bone numbing -40 degrees; or minus 65 degrees if you’re still using the “old” wind chill formula. But regardless of which way you calculate current wind chills, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s just plain cold outside. And with that extreme cold comes increased stress and new survival challenges for Iowa wildlife. That could help explain why so many North Iowa white-tails are already dropping their antlers. During the past three days, for example, I’ve encountered two mature bucks with no antlers and another buck with only one antler.
Hunting for shed antlers has become an increasingly popular pastime during recent years; so much so that some enthusiasts are scheduling vacations around the activity while others keep and train antler hunting Labrador retrievers.
To have a few bucks drop their antlers during the first week of January is nothing out of the ordinary. But to have a large percentage of them shed is. There’s no denying that it’s already been a year of extremes. Winter storms arrived early and temperatures plunged to minus 12 degrees in mid-November — virtually unheard of, even in Iowa’s northern counties. In the wake of our latest arctic cold snaps, white-tail headgear is falling to the ground.
Although human shed hunters are off to an earlier than usual start, they aren’t alone in the woods. Resident squirrel populations are also looking for sheds. But instead of collecting them for trophies; squirrels seek the antlers for their rich deposits of minerals and calcium.