In the fall of 06’ while reminiscing about the praire I remembered the big bucks I had seen, also the friendship I had made with Terry Barns of Barns Lures. A light went on; why not take my antler dogs to the prairie. This time it would not be the fall to hunt birds, but the spring to hunt antlers.
Terry Barns is a professional trapper and he agreed to take a few days off from his spring beaver trapping to take me and my nephew Marc antler hunting. We would be taking 11 dogs, all of which were around one year old. They were just puppies. This would be their first real season of hunting sheds in the wild. I was amazed, as was everyone who witnessed the dogs work. They found over 100 sheds in three and a half days.
Like a good close working bird dog quartering 30 to 50 yards ahead, when they spot or smell the antler they go to it and retrieve it to hand. I had found that Labrador retrievers were the dog of choice for shed hunting. They are great at retrieving and have superior noses. The scent work and their ability to discriminate the scent of an antler, among all the others scents outdoors was the key.
The preparation for the trip took months. The proper documentation for the Canadian and U.S. authorities was essential. With all the necessary papers completed, it was time to head north; truck, trailer, 11 antler dogs, me and Marc.
Diary of Marc Sigler:
April 2- first day hunting- 15 degrees 27 sheds
We started the day out at a grain pile on 5 acres of land that Terry had scouted for us over the winter. We found 10 sheds at that location in about two hours. Many of the sheds we could see, but the dogs found those and the ones we couldn’t see as well. Terry next led us to a spot by the Antler River. It was a beautiful place to hunt. A trace of Hawthorns, Poplars and Cocklebur bushes made for a nicely covered walk with abundant deer and moose sign along the trails. I hadn’t seen the others in our party for over an hour, I decided to go to the top of a hill to try and see if I could spot them. It was quiet up there too quiet. I could imagine the coyotes sneaking in on me for a meal. Then a sly whisper of motion, followed by the pounding of footsteps through the tall grass, closed in on me with the speed of a perfect ambush. It was Ayla, Roger’s yellow lab. I could literally hear my heart pounding. She had found me and I was reunited with my team. We didn’t find any sheds so we moved on.
The next place Terry took us was a corn field down the road from his house. Sheds are hard to see in cornfields because the remaining stalks of the harvest camouflage the field with antler-like shapes and colors. Terry had already found a shed. Roger and the dogs were finding sheds like crazy. I was still searching hard for my first find. After a couple of hours of searching the only thing that turned up was a twenty five pound jack rabbit. We were heading back to the truck and I still had not found one shed in that field. The wind was blowing about thirty mph making the temperature feel about 1 degree. The dogs seem to love the cold and they came in with another ten sheds.
Terry had spotted some hay bales that looked like it would have provided a good wind break for wintering deer. We hunted that area and came up with another 7 sheds. After dinner we took the dogs out for their evening free roam and they brought Roger two more sheds. That had brought our total for the day to 27.
Day 2 April 3/ -10 degrees 19 sheds
Terry pointed us towards an abandoned farm where we found about 6 sheds. It was amazing, the dogs worked in this cold weather with so much excitement that it gave us the drive to go on. We then headed to an old apple orchard where Ayla dug up a nice skull and rack in a wind row. We could not touch that prize that Ayla found, it’s against Canadian law to take anything with a skull attached. There was lots of deep cover and brush that would have made it very difficult at best to find any sheds without the dog’s skill at being able to locate them. After lunch we headed to a very large area with even more brush and forest. Roger’s pit bull “Porter” came back with two sheds and a matched set was spotted and the dogs quickly retrieved them.
Our next location was a farmer’s cornfield. Between the dogs and us we found five more sheds in short order. On the way back to the truck I stepped right over a shed and realized how many we have missed if it was not for the keen noses of the dogs. By the time we reached the truck, the dogs brought in a couple more and we had 19 for the daily total and the best yet to come.
Day 3 April 4, -5 degrees and sunny 48 sheds
Roger had talked to one of the farmers during breakfast and was informed of some more grain piles and fields where the deer had been feeding and wintering. Word had got out and all the farmers wanted us to rid their fields of antlers as they have a sneaky way of ending up in $800- $3000 tractor tire.
We stopped for a quick peek in a hollow just east of the local co-op to check it out. I found one next to a tree and one in the grass. Just the way we like to start our day. Next we went to an old farm with about a 5 acre rectangle of field surrounded by aspen trees. Rog and Ayla found one in the bush and another one in the tall grass. From there we were directed to another farm where there was food, water and shelter for the deer that had wintered there. I found two sheds in the woods where they had bedded next to some grain bins and farm equipment. Terry found one on his 3 wheeler.
Our next stop was a ranch where there was an acclaimed 500 deer wintering in a field across from their stock yards. I was really beginning to understand that location of there wintering sites was critical. In the North Country the deer bunch up in the winter, unlike the southern locations, where they stay spread out. I found a couple of small ones on the outskirts of some brush and then it was scarce for a while. I ended up finding 4 more on the paths going into and out of the bush. That made 6 totals for that spot and man was I excited. On the way back to the truck I noticed that all of the guys were there waiting on me. They all had smiles from ear to ear that I could see from 100 yards away. I thought they were smiling at me because I had found so many in one spot, but to my surprise they were smiling because they had found thirty between them and the dogs. That was 36 sheds in one spot. Is your mouth watering yet? On our way out Roger and Terry had spotted one more from the road.
Day 4- April 5, -16 degrees and sunny
This was our day to travel to our next location for more antler hunting. Before we left, we stopped by one of the farmer that we had met that had something that he wanted to show us. It was amazing, a young buck had gotten his antlers caught in some bailing twine and as he jumped over a near by fence, he hung himself in the wire. In his struggle to free himself, he had ripped his antlers out of his skull. He got away, but he left his antlers twisted in the fence.
We went back to a hay field that we had hunted the pervious day. We found ten sheds. The dogs were really amazing as they found most of the sheds and two of the racks, including one that they dug out of the ground. We saw two of the dogs in a pond bog. They were trying to dig out the rack that was only showing the top half. They worked to free their prize and there was a fight to see who would bring it in for the praise.
Conclusion by Roger:
On this shed hunt of a life time there were many stories within a story. One of the things that surprised me the most, is that some of the sheds that we found were fresh and some were years old. Some of the sheds were from mulies and some from white tails; it made no difference to the dogs. They were able to scent them all. If you have ever wondered if antlers give off scent, rest assured that they do. The length of time that the shed is left in the wild makes no difference in the ability of the dog to find them.
This trip proved the effectiveness of the use of the antler dog. The dogs that we used for this hunt were all less then fifteen months old. These dogs will only get better with age. For anyone who is truly interested in shed hunting, whether it’s for fun or for gain, the use of a dog is a real asset. Remember my motto, “If you are hunting sheds without a dog, it’s just a walk in the woods.” If you would like more information about Antler Dogs, visit my web site at antlerdogs.com or you may call me at 1-816-289-1154.