The dead of winter finds many Missourians with cabin fever, but one activity during the next month peaks and offers a way to fight that cabin fever. That activity is shed antler hunting.
With the hunting seasons all but closed and weather that is less than inviting, hunting shed antlers is an incentive to venture outdoors.
Starting this month, whitetail bucks begin dropping the antlers they grew for the fall rut. The exact timing varies from year to year and from place to place, but starting now, you can be sure there are antlers on the ground across the state.
Looking for those antlers puts you in touch with nature. If you are a deer hunter, it could also provide clues to the location and habits of bucks that survived the hunting seasons.
In mid-winter, bucks spend most of their time looking for food, so smart shed antler hunters focus their attention on places where food is accessible. Travel corridors between feeding and bedding areas are also worth checking.
Other promising places include harvested corn fields, places where grain has been spilled on the ground, food plots on conservation areas and where large hay bales have been stored.
Although you still need permission to trespass on private land, shed antler hunting doesn't have to be contained to areas where regular hunting is allowed. Public wildlife areas are excellent places to look for antlers and so are golf courses, orchards and subdivisions near wooded areas.
Game trails, logging roads, wooded fence rows and stream corridors are natural travel lanes for deer and should be checked. South-facing slopes are favorite bedding areas because they offer maximum exposure to warm sunshine on clear days.
Hunting shed antlers is like any other kind of hunting. The more you do it, the better you become. Veteran antler hunters in productive areas may bring home dozens of trophies per year.
Don't be discouraged if you just find one or two antlers or none at all your first time out. You will find other rewards that will keep you coming back to the woods this time of year when just a few Missourians take time to experience this kind of event.
You might find antlers at any time of the year, but the best specimens are available now through March. Mice, squirrels and even deer gnaw on shed antlers to get the nutrients they contain, so whole antlers don't last long in the wild.
There are many uses for shed antlers, including making knife handles and even chandeliers. If you notice some of the ads for deer chandeliers in log home magazines, these type of lighting fixtures go for big bucks -- no pun intended.
One new shed antler hunter, Brad Simms, Butler, had seen several big bucks during the 2012 season and last February, he decided to see if he could find and antlers in places he had hunted.
Simms not only found several nice antlers, he also found a full buck head that had a rack larger than he had seen during the hunting season.
"Just last week, my wife encouraged me to go out and find more antlers so she could put together a chandelier like the one she had seen in a magazine," he said. "I enjoyed being outside at a time I would have normally been watching TV. I even flushed a covey of quail that I didn't know were still around."
The hunting for shed antlers has also brought out some poachers looking for a way to turn the antlers into cash.
Tom Wilson, a former Iowa resident, recalled on one occasion, a landowner spotted a car parked on his property. He waited for the owner to come back to the vehicle and when he finally did, the trespasser was carrying a bag loaded with shed antlers he had gathered. It was then discovered that the shed poacher was selling the sheds on Craigslist for big money.
Should you hunt shed antlers on private property, be sure to get permission from the landowner before you go hunting. Also, if you find antlers attached to a deer's skull, contact a conservation agent or regional office of the Missouri Department of Conservation office before keeping them to receive possession authorization. Otherwise, if the antlers are not attached to the deer's skull, the authorization is not needed.
With all the bucks that roam Missouri woods today, there are sure to be some antlers lying around for the taking.