Standing on the wrap-around porch, preparing to open the door to a listing she was showing me, Marvella Oberg, a real estate agent specializing in waterfront, looked out over the steep valley cut by the creek running through the backyard and exclaimed: "winter woods are extremely beautiful."
My eyes swept over the crystal clear water slicing through snow covered banks, over the gray slush clinging to submerged boulders, and slowly ran up the side of the hill. Reaching the upright below me, I caught a glint of sunlight. Going down for a closer look I found it was reflecting off the tine of a perfectly formed antler; the right side of an eight pointer's shed. I put in a purchase offer for the house right then and there.
What else could I do? It was obvious the buck survived 2008 and would be in my neck of the woods come opening day 2009 -- only bigger.
But that's in the distant future. If my offer is accepted, I'll be extending my deer season well into spring by scouting the area for deer patterns. While I'm at it, rest assured I'll be hunting for the left half of that rack.
You see, white-tails shed their antlers every winter. When the rut ends, so does the need to impress does and to fight other bucks for bragging rights to harems. Becoming added weight the deer doesn't need during winter's harsh conditions, its body stops sending testosterone to the horns, drying their link to the nubs on the skull, and the rack falls off, generally when the buck hits branches, tree trunks and other stuff with it.
The shedding process only takes two to three weeks; new antlers take all summer to grow.
Deer enthusiasts aren't the only ones to go after the sheds. Rodents nibble on them for calcium. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers look for them to add trophies to their workouts.
Don't just enter woods expecting to score. Oh sure, you might get lucky and find an antler out in the open, like on a logging trail. But your best bet is to locate where the deer eat, drink, and, the most productive spot of all, where they bed down.
Next time you're hoofin' it through the wilds, follow a deer trail. When it goes into bedding areas like thick pines, brush or stands of young trees, or crosses an open spring, start searching.
Shed hunting is a lot like deer hunting; the critter doesn't always show himself entirely.
Extremely skittish by nature, bucks move excruciatingly slowly by our standards. The most successful hunters scan the woods looking for pieces of the deer, usually antlers first, to emerge from behind trees or brush. Similarly, winter sheds are covered with snow, so concentrate on finding a piece of tine, which is usually all that's exposed.
A good way for novice shed searchers to get started is to drive along country roads and keep an eye on fields. When you spot a herd, go back, search the edge where it meets the forest, and follow the trails in.
Snowy woods have a special appeal. Robert Frost wrote a poem about it. Snowshoers and cross country skiers indulge in it. By paying attention to the ground you stand a chance of coming home with a great memory and trophy without ever firing a shot.