It’s that time of the year again–‘horn hunting’ season. People do it for fun and for profit. These ‘hunters’ are seeking deer, elk, and even moose sheds, which are not really ‘horns’ at all. Horns are found in the bovine family, are a two-part structure, and are worn for the life of the animal. The exception being the Pronghorn, which does shed them every year. Horns are a two-part structure, with an interior of bone and a sheath of a type of hair follicle material, akin to your fingernails. So animals like sheep, bison, or cattle have horns for life.
Antlers, on the other hand, are also true bone but are shed each year and then regrown. As the male adult animal ages, the antler gets bigger and wider.
When I first arrived in Wyoming, I knew the difference between antlers and horns and couldn’t figure out why everyone called this amusement ‘horn hunting’. It was just wrong. People who know the difference, like scientists, will usually refer to it as ‘shed hunting’. But I’ve come to accept it and I suppose the h-h sound was adopted because it just slides off your tongue better.
Antlers are becoming big business and that’s why people go after them. I personally saw a small 6 point elk antler in a California window with a $250 price tag. Antlers are cut up and sold for dog chews, buttons, door handles,key chains, made into furniture, used as table centerpieces, or whatever art pieces you can think of. But what’s really driving the market is the Asian desire for aphrodisiacs. Although I think Viagra is cheaper and actually effective, the myth in the Far East is that antlers, ground up into a powder, will make a man virile. I suppose people will believe anything as well as pay for it.
Last year I took all the old, broken, antlers that had been lying around my property when I purchased it. I’d thrown them into a pile in the yard. They were white and almost powdery from age, but a small loaded pick-up truck fetched over $250! New, browner, bigger antlers can get up to $10 pound.
So far this season, I’ve found about 10 deer antlers. I don’t ‘hunt’ them. I prefer to be gifted–‘shed gifting’. I’m hiking around and there is a ‘present ‘ on the ground of a nice antler. It’s a nice surprise. And sometimes I leave them. I enjoy making things out of antlers, but most of the people I’ve talked to say they just throw them in their garage, and now have a garage full of them.
Antlers provide calcium for small critters like mice, porcupines, and even coyotes will chew on them. People ‘hunting’ them in early spring can ‘push’ the elk and deer at a critical time when they are still stressed from the winter and don’t yet have the benefits of a full green-up. Sometimes I wonder if all this antler collecting isn’t robbing some of the smaller animals of valuable nutrients, as well as what shed antlers put back into the soil.
Just a last note. If you are out shed hunting, carry your bear spray as grizzlies are out now. Here is a great article touting the efficacy of bear spray vs. guns. Bear spray had a 92% efficacy with the other 7% being minor, non-hospitalized injuries and all bears lived. Guns on the other hand had only a 67% efficacy with a 100% fatality for the bear.
And one last note: it is highly illegal to pick up and take home sheds from Yellowstone National Park. You will be fined and probably barred for life from the Park if you attempt to take antlers home.