There are folks who I’m sure are a lot better at this than me. I know there are bone-sniffing dogs that are better at this, and that some of those folks have those dogs. I’m talking about searching for shed deer antlers, which shouldn’t be as difficult as I’ve experienced after my beginner’s luck of finding half a rack from an eight-pointer. That was 20 years ago.
I went “shed searching” again this week. A bit early perhaps — whitetail bucks normally start shedding their antlers in January in these parts — but I had hopes. The bucks that bullets didn’t drop should now or soon be dropping their antlers. Snow depth is about 6 inches, not enough to cover the best of the sheds. Lastly, I came across an impressive fresh track the day after the predicted storm fizzled into a couple of inches of wet white.
While snowshoeing on the new snowfall, I saw deer out in numbers at mid-day after the wet and breezy night. In fact, when finishing my loop I came across the big track — had to be a buck—in my snowshoe tracks I had made 30 minutes earlier. I looked ahead but didn’t see the deer. About 75 yards up the trail the tracks went from walking to running as they veered into the woods.
Three days later, that escape route into the brush was my destination. Could it be my luck that the jumpy buck knocked an antler off in its getaway?
The brush was thick, all the better for the chance of a loose antler getting nudged off. The big track slowed and joined up with more deer tracks. No matter. That’s what I needed, a good deer trail through brush. In so many places I had to stoop ridiculously low, almost crawling on my knees. It drove home the point that even a big deer is only 3 feet tall at the top of its back.
My eyes scanned downward in front of me and then left and right when tributary trails tailed off. No sheds. I passed under a huge pine where several deer had bedded down, another good site for a shed. But nothing.
I fought my way back into the brush, fending off prickly ash and maple saplings, and a series of four branches hanging over the trail, again dropping me to my knees, but not dropping the antlers. Then I eased into a grove of smaller pines so dark and peaceful that I thought about sitting down for a rest.
There’s no fairy (white)tale ending of a five-point half-a-rack discovery. It’s not easy, but that’s the point of the pursuit. I’ll be back. As I left the woods and plied my snowshoes to the trail through the field, I thought of how I normally find something even if not what I’m seeking. One year it was a coyote’s skull and jaw that I carried home from the search for deer antlers.
Oh, I did have something to take home, in my soul if not in my hands. I had snowshoed 3 miles in winter’s wonderland as the January sun played hide and seek with the sheep-back clouds crossing a blue sky. It was nice to clear the brush and look up again. I felt refreshed.
Greschner, retired from the Rice Lake Chronotype, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.