Antler Hunting Season
Deer season is over and Kansas hunters have enjoyed ample time to harvest these tasty big game animals. Even so, a related season continues for those who still seek trophies. Now is the time to find shed deer antlers, natural artwork made of bone cast from bucks when the mating period is over. Many Kansans comb forest and field in search of these outdoor treasures.
Male deer shed their antlers each year, usually between the months of January and April. Antlers form in early summer as living tissue under a protective covering called velvet. Growing antlers are supported by a rich blood and nerve supply and are the fastest form of bone growth known. Each year they grow into fantastic shapes, harden for use as weapons, and are finally cast in late winter. The cycle is repeated annually until the animal dies.
The antler casting process is amazing in itself. Antlers are joined to a deer skull at special junctures called pedicels. During the time of year when antlers are prime for fighting, these bony connections are extremely strong. Under tremendous impact, an antler may break off, but it almost never breaks at the pedicel. As the deer mating season wanes and a buck's blood testosterone levels drop, mineral resorption from the antler bases occurs. In a few days' time, antlers that once couldn't be knocked off now simply fall off. In some cases, both antlers may drop together. In others, days or weeks may pass before the second antler is shed.
Looking for shed antlers is a springtime hobby that grows in popularity each year. Hunters use late winter as a prime time to scout deer movements and look for the antlers of "the buck that got away." But non-hunters may also be interested. There is growing interest in antlers for decorative use. Items ranging from furniture to knife handles may incorporate antlers as a way of bringing the outdoors indoors. Hikers use antler hunting as a good excuse to enjoy warm spring outings off-trail. Teachers and parents find looking for these natural souvenirs a good way to develop outdoor interests in children. Shed hunting combines exercise and adventure for all ages, and the payoff yields some of nature's finest and most durable artworks.
There's no special trick to finding antlers. It's largely a matter of legwork. By the time antlers are shed, bucks are in a routine that involves the best winter food available. In Kansas, wheat and alfalfa fields are normally used heavily during late winter months. Unharvested grainfields are also good places to start. Trails will be well-defined between bedding and feeding areas, and antlers are often dropped along them. Windbreaks and timbered creeks are also likely shedding areas.
In tall grass or CRP, the search is more difficult due to restricted view. But even so, white antlers can be spotted fairly easily along grassy trails. Just remember that some bucks may travel more than a mile to reach their bedding areas, so be prepared to do plenty of walking. A pair of binoculars is helpful in checking distant objects that may be antler parts obscured by vegetation.
Although most hunters keep the antlers they find, shed antlers may be sold. Kansas Administrative Regulation 115-17-15 states that, "Antlers that have been dropped or shed may be possessed and may be sold, purchased, possessed and utilized for any purpose. A bill of sale is to be retained for one calendar year if purchased."