Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Horn Hunting"

Spring has sprung in Northwestern Montana and it has a lot of outdoors people itching to be out in the woods doing something... anything... after a long winter of cabin fever. Even though I work outdoors almost every single day I can completely understand this need to be out and about when the weather turns nicer. The days are getting longer, the sun seems to shine a little brighter, and plants are starting to bud out. Whats not to love?

One of the activities many outdoorsmen and women enjoy is "horn hunting" or searching for sheds. While "horn hunting" isn't exactly an accurate description of the activity since big game animals such as deer and elk do not have horns they have antlers, its a name that most people are familiar with. Just keep in mind that gathering sheds are legal only if its a natural shed, meaning that the animal dropped its antlers rather than someone sawing off the antlers for a winter kill (that's very illegal). My fiance and I have been out and about since the snow melted away and finding some really nice whitetail deer sheds and can't wait until May to start finding the bull elk sheds.

Recently I was in a group of old timers that were swearing up and down that they had already been finding huge sets of bull elk sheds for the past month or so on their horn hunting adventures. While I was only listening with a half ear at the time, this statement caught my attention because from everything I know the elk are still about a month off from dropping their antlers. Even with as nice and early of a spring as we've had there is no way that even the biggest elk would be losing their antlers this early. Some of the guys in the group also were skeptical and had to ask me what my opinion on the matter was. I of course when into my biology schpeal about how losing horns depended on hours of daylight and testosterone levels in the animal and not on the nice, early spring we were experiencing. This reasonable explanation seemed to satisfy the skeptics and disappoint the guys that said they'd already been finding these sheds to impress their buddies. I could see the unease in their eyes and tried to make them feel better by saying they may have just been really lucky and found some of sheds from the previous spring that no one had found last year. I also told them if they wanted to bring the sheds they'd found into my office I'd be happy to tell them how old they were. This seemed to make them even more uncomfortable so I have the feeling the sheds in question don't even exist. So much for trading stories... they can be like fishing stories in the end.

Whatever the case may be, I encourage everyone itching to get out in the woods to start looking for sheds. You'll be amazed at how much ground you can cover when you are concentrating on finding that little bit of white sticking up indicating a bull shed or deciphering between the sticks and horns for a deer shed. A lot of people turn their found treasures into art and furniture for themselves or to sell. Its a great way to spend time in the outdoors with people you love and a great bonding experience for many families.