Searching for antler sheds can be a fun end of winter pastime

Finding deer sheds is a great way to get outside and enjoy the last days of winter while assessing the deer in your area.

Deer antler
Photo by Sam Smith

Michigan has an abundant deer population, and many people enjoy searching or hunting for antler sheds as a late winter outdoor activity. The antler cycle is controlled by photoperiod, or day length. Male deer grow antlers rapidly in spring and summer. After the breeding season, as the days get shorter, the amount of the reproductive hormone testosterone drops. Testosterone controls the antler cycle; when testosterone levels drop, specialized cells called osteoclasts are activated. These osteoclasts eat away at the pedicle, or base of the deer’s antlers, which cause the antlers to become weak and eventually fall off. This cycle occurs annually in deer.

Here are some tips for a successful antler shed hunt.

  • Look along deer trails. Deer trails are a great place to find sheds because the deer are traveling along these routes, likely bounding or jumping over downed logs, fences or small streams. The impact of landing may help antlers to drop. Also, look in areas on the trail where brush is thick. The thick brush may pull at the antlers, helping them to drop.
  • Areas that offer a feeding site can also be areas where sheds can be found. During the winter months, areas that offer abundant and quality nutrition will be a congregation site, which increases the odds that sheds can be found.
  • Deer sheds pose low to no risk in spreading chronic wasting disease. Wipe any organic material from sheds and always practice good hand hygiene after handling antler sheds.

For more information about deer management, chronic wasting disease, tips and tools for hunters and venison consumers, and other deer related topics, visit Michigan State University Extension’s Chronic Wasting Disease website.

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