Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
With the November rut long past, Iowa white-tails have no further need of their magnificent antlers. So what do deer do with something they don’t need anymore? The same thing we do; they throw it away. Bucks annually accomplish this task through an involuntary process called shedding. Sudden spikes in stress levels may hasten the event. A scarcity of food or arrival of extreme cold may cause a buck to suddenly lose his head — or at least a part of it.
During the past week, an increasing number of shed bucks or deer sporting a single antler are being seen across the state. For human enthusiasts, it’s a Call to Arms as shed hunters take to forested ridge tops and timbered river bottoms in search of discarded treasure.
Shed hunting has become an increasingly popular and increasingly competitive sport in Iowa during recent years. Some antler addicts have even began scheduling vacation days around shed hunting while others keep and train antler hunting Labrador retrievers which are bred, in part, for this highly specialized task.
But antler enthusiasts had better be quick. There are other hunters searching the local woodlands, and they don’t all travel on two legs. Squirrels, white-footed mice, and other small mammals are also hoping to find their fair share. But instead of collecting them as trophies, squirrels seek the antlers for their rich deposits of minerals and calcium – a classic example of recycling in its purest form.