Trophies for the Taking

Discarded antlers can be valuable and if you know where to look they're surprisingly easy to find, including the animal watch, shedding seasons, on the hunt, the payoff.

| January/February 1982

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    Moose seek shelter from storms in timbered areas. Deer like to browse on the south sides of hills.
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    Elk shed their racks late in the season
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    Carry your trophies with the points turned away from your back and neck
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    Antlers are easier to find before the snow melts... There's money in the discarded headgear.

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There's one form of hunting that'll appeal to almost anybody who appreciates having a good excuse to roam the outdoors on a beautiful winter's day. And—although the sport can provide you with a collection of the giant racks of buck deer and bull elk and moose—there are no "seasons" or bag limits, and no licenses are required . . . because the idea is to collect the antlers after they've been shed. Best of all, anyone who has legal access to woods or wilderness where the wild ruminants roam can enjoy (and probably profit from) this activity, once he or she has picked up some pointers on the benign form of hunting.

The Animal Watch

In my home state of Wyoming, the no-kill trophy chase begins just before January, with preseason scouting. At that time of year most wild game animals are fighting to survive winter's cold, and—on calm days—the antlered beasts usually band together in areas where a little browse has been uncovered by earlier winds. Moose frequently congregate in river bottoms, where they tear at willow buds to fuel themselves, while deer are more likely to group on the south (or warmer) sides of hills until another storm drives them into timber to escape the life-sapping winds.

I rarely approach any animals that I see but, instead, watch their habits through binoculars. (When humans get too close, the creatures will almost always run, and flight forces them to waste precious energy.) Then I use a map to record the spots where the deer and moose in my area seem to hang out. I draw lines indicating heavily traveled snow trails, too, and note timbered areas that appear to shelter big game in harsh weather. Tracks will usually lace these spots.

Not long after my scouting, deer and moose will begin to shed their antlers. The base of the horn loosens from the skull, and when the animal bumps a tree or moves its head quickly, the antlers shear off relatively painlessly. Larger racks seem to drop first. Probably this happens because big bucks, bull elk, and bull moose have so much leverage applied to their noggins by their weighty headgear that a quick twist of the neck wrenches off loose antlers far sooner than would be the case with spindlyhorned specimens (young animals with little overhead mass may well carry one or both projections far into the spring).

Once my region's moose and deer have discarded their racks, I focus on locating the winter hangouts of elk, animals that tend to molt later (they start to do so during the early days of March in Wyoming). Elk habitats, during the late winter and early spring, vary from sunny open slopes to snowbound timber tracts to treeless mountain valleys. I map such places and then wait until the sighting of a number of bare-headed bulls tells me that their shedding season is all but over.

The first part of spring, then, is prime time for elk trophy-taking. Don't delay your hunt too long, however . . . when summer comes, most of the past winter's antlers will be hidden from view by sprouted greenery or ruined by gnawing rodents.


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